Farmers’ markets: Walk around markets and mingle; talk to the growers or if someone else is selling for a farmer, find out the farmer’s name and phone number. This is also a good way to see what is grown in the area
Farm Shows: Look for farm shows in your area and check with the organizers (state departments’ of agriculture often run them) to get a free booth or table. This is a great way to connect with current providers in off seasons and gives a chance to get SoSA’s name out there to new providers. Examples of these shows include Blueberry Growers’ Association meetings, equipment expos, etc.
County Extension Agents: Make appointments to see either the Director of the County extension or the agent who actually deals with fruit and vegetable growers. Sometimes they will give the name and phone numbers of farmers and sometimes they won’t. This is helpful in spreading the word to farms that may otherwise be difficult to contact.
Farm Service Agents: Make contact with these folks. They are part of the USDA and are being pushed to encourage farmers to do gleaning. Also, they know the farmers and what they are growing. Farmers are supposed to register their crops with the FSA.
State Department of Agriculture: The State Dept. of Agriculture may put out publications that would be helpful such as a list of pick your own farmers. Some states may have websites that even list growers.
Newspaper listings of Pick-Your-Own-Farms: In the springtime, papers will often run listings of farms in the area. Pick your own farms are often a great place to start because they are used to having “laypersons” in the field.
When contacting farmers, it may be possible to contact them during the day; however, it is often easier to catch a farmer at home after dark. Some farmers may respond better to a personal visit.
When calling farmers, let them know as soon as possible that you are NOT interested in money. A model script to start out with might be:
“Hi, This is (name) and I work for Society of St. Andrew. We are an organization that works with farmers to glean their fields and get the produce to needy persons.”
Tell the farmer in general terms what SoSA does and ask if they might be interested in having their field gleaned. Depending on the farmer’s response to a first phone call, it may be easier to say a little bit about SoSA and then say that you could mail information to the farmer and you will call back after they have seen the material. Understand that it would cost farmers more to harvest what can’t be sold than to allow SoSA to glean their surplus. Also, SoSA volunteers can help keep plants producing by picking regularly.
Selling points of gleaning:
Things to find out from growers:
It is very helpful to keep an excel spreadsheet of all contacts made. Put each farmer on a separate sheet and keep track of when contact was made. Write down what crops they grow and when these might be available. Often a farmer will say “call me back in a few weeks.” Make sure to write that down and perhaps write a reminder on a calendar to make the phone call.
Help farmers understand what SoSA does. Help them to know that SoSA is concerned for them; SoSA doesn’t want to take any produce that they could sell, just what would otherwise go to waste. SoSA doesn’t allow recipients to sell the gleaned produce or compete with the farmers’ sales in any way.
It’s important to know what your farmers value. It could be recognition, how many people they feed, confidentiality, or their love for providing healthy veggies.
That’s something we’re trying to figure out. Farmers don’t really appreciate SoSA spending money on gifts or trinkets. Some farmers also don’t like people to know who they are so recognition and appreciation are not what they are looking for. We are looking and learning to figure out a standard way to show appreciation to farmers but often times what they appreciate the most is very individualistic.
Farmers and individual gardeners provide the donations necessary for the Society of St. Andrew to function. Food providers, therefore, are at the top of the supply chain and are treated with utmost respect. Farmers names and information are not given out unless given permission for their protection.
Maintaining Contact with Farmers
Some farmers like SoSA to keep in contact with them year round—even when they are not growing or SoSA volunteers are not actively gleaning with them. There are a variety of ways to do this. First, during the growing season, make certain to contact farmers often about how the crops are progressing and what they are growing and how much is being harvested. Remember after every gleaning to send a thank you note to the farmer. During the holidays, make certain to send a Christmas card (provided by Regional Office). In January, send them their tax letter and a letter of thanks (Regional Offices/Program Coordinators handle this). In the spring, check with the farmer to see what they will be planting that year.
Step 1: Ascertain the time when the crop needs to be gleaned. Some farmers will know a while in advance if they expect to have something to glean. Others may not contact us until they want it out of the field the next day. Try to work within the time constraints that the farmer would like. Flexibility is key!
Step 2: Find out how large the field is or how much the farmer expects SoSA volunteers to glean: This is crucial because it determines what the optimum number of gleaners would be and how many/what size vehicles are needed to transport the crop.
Step 3: If you are uncertain about packaging, ask the farmer what she or he would suggest for packaging.
Step 4: Then, let the farmer know that you will be back in touch when you have made arrangements for gleaning. Always make certain that you have confirmed with the farmer, the date and time that Gleaners will be at the field.
Society of St. Andrew(SoSA) Gleaning Network started in 1979 and slowly spread West, in unison with SoSA’s mission. In 2009, SoSA opened an office in Mississippi. Since then, SoSA has helped rescue more than 15 million pounds of food for families in need in our region. Mississippi is home to Vardaman, which is the sweet potato capital of the world. Their largest produce crop to glean is sweet potatoes, but corn, watermelon, and tomatoes are also prolific. The entrepreneurial spirit found in most Mississippians has helped us rescue progressively more food every year. Great success has been found in equipping, training and leading small groups into the fields to glean. Over time, these groups are encouraged to become independent and foster a stronger sense of community at the local level.
Currently, the Mississippi Gleaning Network leads more than 2,000 volunteers annually into the fields after harvesters to glean excess crops, into packing house to glean what isn’t sold, and into the parking lots to host our well-known Crop Drops. There are so many food deserts in geographically isolated regions that Crop Drops are almost a necessity. SoSA has also partnered with a local group called the Oxford Community Farmers Market and has duplicated their fresh food drive project. This allows a greater variety and more regular frequency of produce available for the pantries.