Historically, Florida has been a citrus mecca, and this produce was the bulk of SoSA’s gleaning. However, with back-to-back hurricanes and the spread of greening disease, this is no longer the case. The continuing pattern of hurricanes and other natural disasters has imperiled SoSA’s primary produce for the past two years, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. When there is nothing to glean but many eager volunteers ready to help, they are not turned away. Rather, these volunteers are redirected to participate at farms in need of assistance. SoSA will carry out a gardening day as a typical glean, but without an agency, as no produce is being collected. The VISTA will speak with the growers to identify what tasks can be accomplished at their facility for laymen participants. Typical farm work suitable for volunteers includes: mixing and preparing soil, planting, weeding, pruning, watering, and basic landscaping. The day of the event, the farmer usually will introduce him or herself and instruct personnel and volunteers as to what is needed, and may remain on deck to supervise activities.
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 return. Rather, it is important for the VISTA to show extra appreciation and talk about the farm they are helping. Many farms SoSA helps are small-scale and family owned with a limited number of staff. When the volunteers understand that they are helping a family directly, that will not only support the family but also SoSA’s future efforts, moral is raised and some take pride in their part of the growing process.
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.