Much Has Been Given

prince george's county, maryland

I have a farmer’s tan, a bonafide farmer’s tan. A tan earned by a hard day of harvest in the afternoon sun on Miller’s Farm in Prince George’s County, Maryland. It all started in a corner of a collard field where Sir Thomas R. Chandler stood before us with a megaphone and a message.

“Do not reap all the way to the edges of your field, so as to leave some for the poor and the needy,” he said.

With the passion and purpose of a preacher, Sir Thomas introduced us to the ancient gleaner’s law, recorded in the Bible and the artwork of masters like Jean-Francois Millet.

It makes perfect sense. In the same country where 1/2 of the produce we grow is thrown away, there are 12.6 million children at risk for hunger every day. In that same country, our country, crops that are edible but not marketable would rot in the field if not for the volunteers who glean and gather to feed the hungry mouths of their neighbors.

It is upon this principle that Thomas Chandler founded the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network that mobilized volunteers to do exactly that. I call him Sir Thomas because he wears the mark of a knight, upholding the values of faith {in the good of man}, loyalty {to his hungry countrymen}, courage {to ask for help} and honor {to uphold civic duty} by feeding the needy with resources that would otherwise go to waste.

Under his leadership, we, an army of gleaners 100-deep from Share Our Strength’s Conference of Leaders, descended upon the field armed with mesh bags to collect a second growth of collards that stood in 30 neat rows. The collards, vibrant green and bursting with life, bore the occasional mark of a moth, tiny holes that effect neither flavor nor nutrient content, but prevent them from going to market. In one hour, we gathered over 60 bags of greens that Sir Thomas estimated would weigh in at about 3,000 pounds.

After our first gleaning, we gathered for a family meal in the fields like true farmers, celebrating our harvest over sandwiches and stories, before heading further out to tackle another patch of green.

It was there, in the second field, that I met Pastor Daniel Hall, co-founder of the Gleaning Network, when I came to confess to Sir Thomas that I’d gleaned a few stray mustard greens right into my mouth. Pastor Hall’s gentle laugh at my confession welcomed me into a deeper conversation. Born on a farm in Maryland where his daddy was a sharecropper, Pastor Hall went on to get his doctorate, teach as a professor at Howard University, serve on numerous boards of directors, and lead churches and revivals before connecting with Sir Thomas, somehow maintaining the humility of farm boy all along.

He shared with me the story of the ancient city of Sodom, a city whose eventual demise rested upon the arrogance and abundance that caused their indifference to the poor and the needy.

“We have been blessed, to become a blessing,” Pastor Hall said of the good fortune most of us share.
With that in mind, I headed back to the field to work a little harder. By day’s end, we filled a refrigerator truck plum full of greens that would make the journey back to DC to feed the kids at Roosevelt High School. Meanwhile, we made a journey of consciousness, awareness that hunger and need are all around us, and that our afternoon effort, which fulfilled many an agrarian dream, is just one piece in the puzzle to end hunger in America. There is education, inspiration, and imagination required.

It is the kind of imagination that can turn a bunch of greens into a luscious frittata that can also turn an empty parking lot into a Common Good City Farm, changing the face of hunger on one city block; the enterprising spirit that uses one ingredient as a building block to a more satisfying story. Cheese, eggs, olive oil, salt. Access, awareness, information, education. We are building a better meal, a better food system, a better nation.
It’s so simple; it could start in a collard field with a megaphone and a message.

No Kid Hungry.


Jaime said...

It was an incredible experience - so glad that we got to share in it.

Allie said...

Hey Sarah!!

What a fabulous post. You captured the beautiful day we spent on the Miller Farm so well. I'm so happy we met this past weekend!

PS I'm going to start tweeting soon. I'm already hooked and I haven't even officially tweeted yet!

John Haydon said...

Sarah - it sounds like you guys had an incredibly "nurishing" experience. I like how the Pastor said you have been blessed to become blessings. The greatest gift is to be able to give.

Michelle (What's Cooking) said...

I wished I could have been there. I was working at the Share Our Strength table at the FoodBuzz conference in San Francisco - amazing in its own right. We got lots of people excited about SOS. Maybe I'll get to participate in DC conference next year :-)
See you in Portland in April at IACP!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the heartfelt story and the reminder that there really IS hunger in our land of overabundance.

It is apparent that your heart is just as big as the days we volunteered at the soup kitchens in junior high.

No Kid Hungry - love it.

fortworthcookie said...

Sarah, read your post right away but didn't have time then to tell you how wonderful a job you did capturing the experience. Anytime you're in Texas let me know, I'd love to get together over a meal, or a field of collards.

Much affection,

fortworthcookie said...

Sarah, read your post right away but didn't have time then to tell you how wonderful a job you did capturing the experience.

Anytime you're in Texas let me know, I'd love to get together over a meal, or a field of collards.

Much affection,

My photo
New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.