The beginning quarter of 2017 has been exciting in many ways for GleanKY. We’ve set our sights upon expanding our gleaning program, are in the process of adding a new van to our soon-to-be fleet of two, and are partnering with FoodChain to make even more food available to our recipients. For me, though, it’s been exciting for different—if not selfish—reasons.
This year, GleanKY welcomed me on board as their Program Director and fourth staff member. This hasn’t been just another job for me—it’s been like coming home to family. Having volunteered with GleanKY in one capacity or another for the past six years, our mission is very dear to my heart, and to be able to dedicate my full attention to it day after day is one of the biggest blessings.
It’s been a privilege to watch firsthand the way that GleanKY has evolved since our founding. When I started gleaning the Bluegrass Farmers Market as a volunteer in 2011, the organization looked nothing like it does today. At the time, it was basically a grassroots effort, with a small crew of dedicated, impassioned do-gooders leading the charge. The need for this work was perhaps bigger than we might have expected back then. Who would have guessed that in such a relatively short period of time we’d grow to the point where we’d be serving 85 recipients in four counties?
It’s an honor that GleanKY has entrusted me with heading up the effort to take the organization’s mission on the road. As is our way, we’ve set a big goal for ourselves: to have a presence in 17 counties—i.e., the entire Bluegrass region—by 2020. (Just think, when we started this work in 2010, the goal was just 10 sources and 10 recipients in Fayette County alone.)
To be quite honest, this is an intimidating prospect. So much of our growth to this point has happened organically. When our chapters in Franklin County, Madison County and Scott County came on board, it was because leaders in those communities stepped in and wanted continue GleanKY’s work where they live. Now, we’re on the search to go out and find those leaders, which is no easy task but is still a fun process.
I’ve spent the first few months of the year connecting with our chapter coordinators who have already been doing great work in their communities. One thing that’s really come to light for me is that gleaning doesn’t necessarily look the same in every part of the state. In Fayette County, at least half of the produce gleaned comes from grocery stores, while this isn’t the case for our other chapters. In Madison County, for example, much of their success has come from working with backyard gardeners through GleanKY’s Plant It Forward initiative, whereas Franklin and Scott Counties rely heavily on on-farm gleaning.
Despite the fact that gleaning has and will take many different forms as we continue to expand, we’ve focused a lot this quarter on highlighting our core values, unifying our messaging and making sure that our coordinators have access to the tools they need to successfully glean fresh food in and for their communities.
Because we’ve spent some time laying that foundation, we’re in good shape to begin our expansion efforts in quarter two. We currently have volunteer trainings scheduled for the remaining counties surrounding Lexington—Clark, Bourbon, Woodford and Jessamine—and I’m hopeful we’re going to find good people willing to continue this work. In fact, we’ve already met some amazingly passionate people who are eager to partner with us and bring GleanKY into their hometowns.
When you start talking to people about gleaning, the buy-in to the mission is a no-brainer. Not only is the concept simple (move food people don’t need to a place where people need it), it’s helping solve two major problems that have become epidemics in our state. I’m continually inspired by the way new people easily join the fold of GleanKY’s work and take it on as their personal mission. It’s work we all can do, and it’s work we all should do. And the fact that I get to meet these people every day, well, that makes my job pretty awesome.