Volunteer Cooking Workshops: Offseason Community Events at Boston Area Gleaners

04 Feb 2021, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Harvest VISTA, Boston Area Gleaners

Paul Franceschi serves as a Harvest VISTA at Boston Area Gleaners (BAG) in Waltham, MA coordinating public outreach. BAG partners with local farms, hunger relief organizations, and social justice-focused food businesses to harvest surplus produce, reduce food waste, and make connections in the food system to alleviate food insecurity.

Typically for a gleaning organization, winter is a quieter time. Field harvests have come to a close, and with it, volunteers are less involved in the day-to-day activities of the organization. In years past, Boston Area Gleaners would turn its focus to season-wrap-up celebrations and volunteer recognition events at this point—but with COVID-19, those events are off the table.

This ‘offseason’ has actually been pretty active for the Gleaners due to the continued ramping-up of emergency food assistance initiatives in Massachusetts. Volunteers are continuing to help—in small groups—to get food boxes packed at the Gleaner’s facility each week. But for folks who may not be comfortable working indoors, and those who might be expecting something more communal, there was still a gap to fill.

As the pandemic limited opportunities to gather this year, it also opened the door for more available virtual experiences (though it is important to note that access to technology itself has never been a more relevant issue). As a way for folks to come together virtually, Harvest VISTA Paul helped coordinate free cooking workshops during the offseason.

Without going digital, this type of project may not have been on the Gleaners’ radar, given the mini-kitchen and general lack of space at BAG HQ. By sharing space virtually, though, folks can cook and learn together with while apart.

There is understandably an overlap between people who like to rescue farm food and people who like to cook plant-based meals, so the Gleaners collaborated with a longtime volunteer and passionate home cook to run the first workshop out of his kitchen, where he generously shared a roasted squash and lentil recipe with others in the community.

In the vein of preventing food waste, the more recent cooking workshop that the Gleaners coordinated was an introduction to canning and jam-making, hosted by an expert on the operations team.

These events aren’t without challenges. For one thing, virtual attendance can be hard to guarantee—but advertising workshops like any other volunteer project, and sending multiple reminders to folks who have signed up, definitely helps. And while many have been pushed into learning digital tools this year, not everyone has access to Zoom. But at time when it’s difficult for communities to connect, the Gleaners’ Cooking Workshops have been a great way to share and learn from each other.