by Todd Kaplan
Gleaning is a Jewish value, rooted in our texts. It appears in the Humash in several places and in each place, it is clear that no matter the famer’s yield in the field, there is enough for those in need too.
In the Book of Ruth, we read how Boaz instructs his workers to leave behind some crops in the field for Ruth. Ruth 2:2–2:2.
In Deuteronomy, we learn that these crops are for “the alien, the orphan, and the widow,” and we leave some of the olives behind (Deut. 24:20-22, trans. Everett Fox) Elsewhere in the Torah, we learn that we must leave the crops that were accidentally not harvested (Deuteronomy 24:19) and to leave the corners of edges of the field behind as well (Leviticus 19:9) and finally, to not strip the field bare and leave some behind for this in need. (Leviticus 19:10).
What we “glean” from these writings is that indeed there is enough food in our world for all, but it is not an accident how it gets into the hands of those in need. We have to make it happen. That is why for over a decade, I have volunteered with a local crop rescue program called Boston Area Gleaners (BAG). This small group has, on a shoe string budget, harvested an incredible amount of local produce and distributed it to families in need in the Boston area. In 2019, the total amount harvested was almost 1,000,000 pounds! Nearly all of these crops would have been plowed back into the ground, mostly because it was not cost effective for the farmer to harvest these crops peak season.
When the pandemic hit, volunteer opportunities dried up and BAG’s staff pivoted to distributing produce to food pantries under a USDA contract. I saw that no matter how much BAG was able to accomplish, the need was even greater. I started to volunteer stocking the Somerville Community Fridge, located in Union Square at 35 Prospect St. The fridge is similar to a traditional food pantry in that it offers food to community members in need. Rather than being open for short periods each week, it is open 24/7. The fridge is run by an ad-hoc group of volunteers and it is also completely and informally reliant on community members to stock it. This system trusts that those who use the fridge will take what they need and the anonymity and absence of bureaucracy help ensure the dignity of those using it. The fridge has been tremendously successful.
Boston Area Gleaners is fundraising for a permanent home for their operations, to help out, for more information or to sign up to glean with go to: http://www.bostonareagleaners.org/
For more information about Boston area community fridges go to:
Editor's note: you can see that the Havurah and the community fridge groups both value a non-hierarchical power structure, volunteerism and doing-it-yourself.
Todd Kaplan is a long time Hav member and Somerville resident. His day job is defending tenants and homeowners facing displacement and he is passionate about alleviating food insecurity in our community and around the world.