Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.
Belle Glade, Florida is a small town hemmed in by farms on all sides. An impoverished agricultural area, Belle Glade grows and processes primarily sugarcane. Agriculture is embedded into the landscape; towers of smoke can always be seen in fields, a required purging for sugar production and roads with dips and divots with grooves left by truckloads of produce. Within the town proper is the Lighthouse Café, a ministry built directly inside project housing. Lighthouse Café feeds, educates, and provides child-related services. A recent partner to join SoSA’s gleaning outreach, Lighthouse invited SoSA, CROS Ministries, and Heritage/Roth Farms to participate in the full cycle of gleaning, from farm to fork.
On the morning of April 3rd, Elise, her coordinator, and several volunteers went out into the field to glean. After a harvest of cabbage, lettuce, radish, and tomatoes SoSA delivered the produce to a local agency, as per usual. However, with the help of chef Paula Kendrick and Melanie Mason, representatives of the Florida Department of Agriculture, and SoSA, together cleaned and prepped the gleaned produce for serving the following morning.
Not only did SoSA glean and prepare the food for the agency, but assisted in putting on a food demo for the gleaned produce. Showing clients the process behind their meal will hopefully empower them to replicate the nutritious meal, creating a cycle of good food. As the pioneer event, SoSA and the Florida Department of Agriculture aspire to grow this outreach to more agencies and partners in the future. In addition to preparing and teaching about the food, SoSA handed out kitchen tools and recipe cards for anyone who wanted them. SoSA hopes to invest its patrons in gleaned food in all stages, from the agency to the community.