One Wednesday on my usual visit to the Union Square Greenmarket for PRINT, I spoke with Kevin Smith of Sycamore Farms. He asked if I wanted to come glean tomatoes on his farm in Orange County. These tomatoes were to be donated to local food pantries. I was intrigued about the produce gleaning program – run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension – and eager to help out. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend that particular date. Yet I knew we wanted to be involved in the future. Because of this, I got in touch with the community liaison for the extension. I asked to be put on their volunteer email list.
Here is how it works: every few weeks the program sends out requests for volunteers. This is usually done just a few days in advance. Volunteers are asked to help harvest produce at Hudson Valley farms. These farms do not have enough labor to keep up with certain crops. All of the produce harvested is sent to nearby food security and rescue organizations. In addition to these volunteer gleans, the Cornell program also has a full time gleaning program coordinator. The coordinator picks up excess produce from regional farmers like Sycamore Farms several times a week. Generally, these are vegetables that were not sold at the farmers market or could not be sold through a distributor.
The day I was able to go glean, the event was at The Peter Maurin Farm in Marlboro, New York. This farm is operated by the Catholic Worker Movement. All the produce grown there is given to their soup kitchens in New York City. It also feeds the workers that live on the farm.
How Much Did We Glean?
After a scenic drive down a winding road dotted with orchards, I arrived to join the volunteers fast at work picking kale. Once that field was complete, we moved to a field at the back of the property. Here we pulled up turnips and their greens, along with daikon radishes. It was a beautiful fall morning! The two hours flew by alongside other volunteers, with good conversation and hard work.
We ended up harvesting an impressive two truckloads of produce. The organization donates 10,000 pounds of food each week to various food pantries and partners. This amounts to an annual total of 16 million pounds of food (including 3 million pounds of fresh produce). The food goes to 130,000 food-insecure people throughout the region. Alas, even this large amount is still not enough to meet the demand in the region. Therefore, they are always looking for new partnerships, donors, and volunteers. Get information here to get involved!
Fall Farm Trip Visit to Sycamore Farms
On my way back to city I stopped at Sycamore Farms in Middletown, New York. I was to get a tour of the property from the enthusiastic head farmer, Kevin Smith. Kevin is a positive presence at the market alongside his gorgeous and delicious produce. He’s always full of energy and a smile.
When I arrived at the barn there were workers outside cutting and making fencing. I assumed it was for the property. However, Kevin explained to me it was for a pumpkin carving display his friends were putting up in a large New Jersey mall. He was providing hundreds of pumpkins and specially made fire retardant bales of hay for the same display. In addition to the fall harvest which was in full swing with lingering warm temperatures, this was quite a large side project.
We made our way through the fields while Kevin explained how he rotates his bean crops for soil health. In general they were having a stellar year. Then we went into the corn field where he grows a bi-color variety. This corn has small kernels and intense sweetness.
The rest of the tour we did via a pickup truck, since the farm has 240 acres in total. We drove past the tomato fields, a new peach tree orchard, and up to clearing with a view of the Hudson Valley. Kevin hopes to someday build an event space there.
About the Property
The property has been a working farm for nearly 200 years. It has been in Kevin’s family for two generations. His father saw the potential of selling directly to consumers at the Greenmarket all the way back in 1981. Because of this, it has been their primary source of income ever since. Kevin hopes to expand into the events business as a way to diversify income. He also wants to share the beautiful land and bountiful produce with the public.
In keeping with the produce gleaning theme of the day, he let me pick raspberries from some bushes near his parents’ house that he said no one would have time to get. It was truly a late season treat to glean so many berries ripened by the last of the warm autumn sunshine.