By Jean Blish Siers *
When we glean, people will often ask – a little shyly — if it’s okay to eat something in the field: sample a ripe, red tomato, or grab a bite of a watermelon that broke trying to get it in the truck. I always tell them yes, and so do the farmers.
Our good farmer friend, Charlie Barbee, who this time of year takes groups of us into the field once or twice a week at his family’s farm, tells them, “If it’s not good raw, it’s not good cooked!” He entices nervous children and adults alike to eat raw corn or dig into a watermelon.
Usually when I’m in a field, I end up with the words from Psalm 34 running in my head: O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. I love reading the psalms, the earthy poetry that acknowledges our fears and errors and continually assures us that if we turn to the Lord, we will find a harbor. I love the tangible, palpable pleasure of watching a truck fill with food. We taste. We see.
Gleaning, to me, is about more than simply filling a truck and filling stomachs. It’s a relational ministry. It’s about our relationship with the earth, with the farmers who produce our food, with the other gleaners who take the time to harvest it, and with the people struggling with food insecurity who will eat the food we glean. It’s good for us to taste, to see that what we’re picking is indeed good food that will nourish our neighbors.
Once, I had a group of students in a tomato field and asked them if they’d eaten one yet. They all looked at me as if I were crazy (a pretty common look I receive!) Several assured me that they HATED tomatoes unless they were on pizza or in ketchup. I did what any strong leader would do: I picked a big, juicy, ripe tomato and bit into it, making sure the juice dribbled down my chin. The kids laughed, and then one of the boys thought he’d do it, too, to be funny. He bit into the tomato and his eyes lit up. “Wow! I never knew a tomato tasted like this!” Pretty soon, productivity slowed as everyone gave it a try. They had to taste so they could see it was good, and to see the importance of what they were doing.
When the farmer offers us the chance to harvest his excess, he is telling us to taste and see his crop is good and deserves to be shared. As people glean in the hot sun, we tell them to taste and see the produce. And when our drivers deliver a fresh watermelon to folks with chronic health issues and who cannot eat processed foods, he is telling them, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Thank goodness we are able to provide the network of hands and feet to keep that message alive with those in our community who need to hear it most.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.