by Mike Elmore, SoSA’s program coordinator for Florida
Gleaning is different in Florida – our harvest season starts when others are scraping ice off cars and shoveling driveways. We can’t glean past noon due to the humidity and the 100% chance of afternoon rain. And we face the late summer/early autumn succession of Atlantic-borne hurricanes, each threatening to drown our susceptible peninsula.
In the year I’ve worked in the Florida office, I’ve gleaned at nearly every Floridian latitude from north to south. I’ve gleaned in the sticky heat and pouring rain, in fields abundant and sparse, with volunteers from young to old.
But last month, I participated in a two-day event that would be special for any gleaner — completing the full cycle of food recovery, distribution, and meal preparation. This event was coordinated by the Department of Agriculture and included collaboration with SoSA, CROS Ministries, Lighthouse Café, and Heritage/Roth Farms.
Food recovery took place on a Tuesday morning in Belle Glade, Florida. We gleaned for a little over an hour, gathering cabbage, and romaine and iceberg lettuce. Then we stopped at Heritage Farms to pick up 40 pounds of radishes.
Distribution happened that afternoon. The Lighthouse Café kitchen is at the bottom of a project building in the center of a neighborhood that desperately needs a facelift – stray cats and wild chickens acting as unofficial mascots. We unloaded our produce, as well as cucumbers and tomatoes that our South Florida partner, Keith, had gleaned from the coast earlier. After thorough washing, cutting, and dicing, everything was separated into containers for the next day.
Meal preparation was scheduled for the next morning. We arrived at Lighthouse Café to find the kitchen staff already cooking ham that they provided, and Chef Paula (from the Dept. of Agriculture) working with a well-primed oven. We unwrapped salads, set up the serving lines, and prepared for about 130 clients to arrive at 11:30.
Then came a food prep demonstration. As the clients arrived, we handed out sets of measuring cups and recipe cards for all of the dishes created with our gleaned veggies. Everyone was very gracious and seemed to love all the food. They watched the demo as they ate, and the recipes were fairly easy to make with materials they had at home.
It was great to experience the entire cycle firsthand. Gleaners normally don’t see the process after we drop off food at a feeding agency. Collaborating with other private entities and the state of Florida for this project demonstrated how much effort goes into the big picture of food rescue, distribution, preparation, and meals provided directly to those in need. We plan to do more of these events with agencies and hungry people all over the state.