Florida produce has primarily been citrus but natural disasters like hurricanes and “citrus greening” have impacted a huge percentage of the fruit and will drastically alter what’s available in the future. When there is nothing to glean but many eager volunteers ready to help, they are not sent home. Society of St. Andrew finds which farms they work with that need extra help to get their next crops ready. SoSA will carry out a gardening day as a typical glean, but an agency is not required since no produce is being gleaned. The staff will speak with the farmers to identify what work needs to be done that is possible for a small or large group of volunteers to accomplish. For most volunteers, it will be their first or second time on a farm, so don’t expect a tractor driver to show up! Typical farmwork suitable for volunteers would be: mixing and preparing soil, planting, weeding, pruning, watering, and basic landscaping (shovelling dirt). The SoSA staff is knowledgeable in this area, but may not know exactly what the farm has in mind for. A farmer or representative should be present to help show volunteers proper technique and to oversee the project.
Volunteers on gardening days won’t get the same satisfaction of checking how many pounds of food were picked, which can lower morale and cause volunteers to not come back. Instead, it is important for the coordinator to show extra appreciation and talk about the farm they are helping. Many farms SoSA helps are small scale family owned farms with a limited number of staff. When the volunteers understand that they are helping a family directly instead of a big corporation, and that if they did not help with the work, that someone on staff would have to, they can feel good about the work they did and can have a sense of pride in the food that farm grows, because they helped in part of the process!
Since 1995, the Society of St. Andrew has operated a statewide, volunteer-driven Gleaning Network in Florida that coordinates with local farmers, thousands of volunteers, and food providing agencies. The Florida Gleaning Network is going strong, providing millions of pounds of fresh produce for the hungry each year. Though an agriculturally diverse state, citrus has been a top yielding produce in Florida; with four citrus drives per year, Florida gleaners save and distribute over a half million pounds of sweet oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons. In addition to citrus, the Florida office salvages everything from onions and white potatoes to strawberries, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, and that ever so famous Zellwood sweet corn.
The Florida office is located in Central Florida (Orlando) and oversees all projects and events for the state. The state office team holds two full-time employees: a Regional Director currently for Florida and Georgia, and a Program Coordinator, along with a Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA. The state is sectioned off into North, South, East, West, Central, and Panhandle. Each area holds a satellite gleaning coordinator position who works part time to carry out gleans in the area.