Farmers and individual gardeners provide the donations necessary for the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) to function. Food providers, therefore, are at the top of the supply chain and are treated with upmost respect. Donor relations can be broken down into the following categories: finding, pitching, and maintenance.
Engaging with new growers, particularly outside SoSA’s traditional central Florida sphere, is a top priority. Techniques and venues that have shown promise include:
Farmers’ Markets: Mingling with growers and local distributors at the market is one of the easiest ways to find new donors in the immediate vicinity. Some growers may be interested in time and dollars saved by not transporting produce back to their businesses, others in a tax incentive. Organizers and managers of farmers’ markets are key allies as well, as they tend to be highly motivated to provide additional services to vendors and the positive publicity associated with philanthropy.
Conferences and Expos: These gatherings, such as the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit and the South Eastern Produce Counsel’s (SEPC) annual food show often have thousands of growers in attendance. Contact with sponsoring farms or organizations can open doors to free passes and tabling opportunities. As growers are also there seeking leads, it may be difficult to get their full attention or interest. This is especially true at very competitive shows, given that SoSA does not offer ‘business’ for them. This being said, building relationships at these events has proven invaluable in grower outreach, particularly with large-scale donors.
Stakeholder/Activist Meetings: Churches, nonprofits, clubs, Master Gardeners, advocacy and political groups are all excellent grower outreach platforms. Often they are engaged in one or more of these groups, and members have a close-knit connection with their particular community.
County, City, and State Government: Civil officials, from the County Extension Agency to USDA agents, are not only well connected within the growing community but are driven to enroll farmers in gleaning and food recovery programs. FMSA, GAP/GHP, and related policies have dedicated civil servants who are excellent resources to reach out to growers and identify avenues for donations and overall gleaning expertise. In Florida, there is a Food Recovery Specialist, the first in the nation. A large part of her job is dedicated to gleaning efforts, and she is an invaluable tool in farm outreach.
Newspaper and Online Listings: In the spring of each year, papers will often run listings of UPick farms in the area. These farms are great for gleaning, as they are accustomed to having laypeople in the field. State websites and local newspapers also may have online lists or maps of farms in the area. The offer of bringing local volunteers for free publicity and potential business is also a major draw for these growers.
After a grower has been identified, approaching them with an ‘elevator pitch’ is to follow. This pitch varies based on medium and place. As a rule of thumb, farmers don’t respond well to email. This is particularly true of older and more rural demographics. Calling on the phone or talking in person has been met with the greatest amount of success. Either way, the pitch should begin with a brief explanation as to who you are, why you are calling, and the question if the farmer would like to learn more. Some farmers prefer physical materials and respond positively when they are mailed out. In order to convince farmers, the following selling points can be used: they can’t sell the food (it would cost more to harvest than it could be sold for), the food may have some aesthetic damage, the complete liability coverage, tax deductions, and in certain cases gleaning will help their plants to keep producing (e.g., blueberries, strawberries).
If the farmer agrees, the next step is to ask for and record data on the following: What crops do they grow? When do they harvest and when might gleaning be possible? How many acres do they grow? Where are their fields located? Is it an organic farm? Are children under 18 allowed in the field under supervision?
Tracking all of the above data in a spreadsheet is critical. Records of contact, dates to follow up, location, and any personalized farmer information. Once a grower is onboard, maintaining this relationship is the next priority. Some farmers like SoSA to keep in contact with them year round—even when they are not growing or SoSA is not actively gleaning with them. Contact can be established during the growing season by checking in often about how the crops are progressing, the variety of crops, and the rate of harvest. Outside of gleaning, SoSA sends out two thank you notes, one during the holidays, and the second with their tax letter at the end of the fiscal year. Additionally, contact is maintained at the start and conclusion of the harvest seasons.
The Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) can trace its humble origins to two families and a sheep shed in Big Island, Virginia in 1973. From these roots, the nation’s premier food rescue nonprofit has blossomed. SoSA’s primary function is gleaning, going into a field to harvest leftover or unwanted produce, and then giving this food to agencies free of charge. Additionally, SoSA has the Potato & Produce project, gathering truckloads of produce for distribution, and the Harvest of Hope, a retreat program for long-distance volunteers to glean and serve. Since 1995, the Society of Saint Andrew has maintained a presence throughout the state of Florida. The primary program, the Florida Gleaning Network, mobilizes over 3 thousand volunteers to gather 4 to 6 million pounds of produce annually. The Sunshine State is a veritable agricultural cornucopia, providing such produce as: onions, white potatoes, bok choy, peaches, pears, strawberries, cabbage, lemons, cucumbers, squash, starfruit, oranges, avocados, and the infamous Zellwood sweet corn.
The Florida office is located in Orlando and oversees all projects and events for the state. The state office team holds three full-time staff: the State Director, a Program Coordinator, and a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. The state is sectioned off into geographical regions: South, East, West, West Central, Central, and the Panhandle. Each area holds a satellite gleaning coordinator position who works part-time to carry out gleans in the district.