Throughout its three years, Community Harvest has connected with a range of donors including small- to medium-sized independent farmers who sell to local markets, backyard producers, plant-a-row gardeners, farmers market vendors, and a handful of large scale orchardists. Establishing a large and varied donor base provides the program with a steadier stream of gleaning opportunities.
To expand Community Harvest’s donor base at the Farmer’s Market, the Gleaning Coordinator approaches all vendors at the beginning of the market season to explain the Community Harvest project, including its benefits and process, and gauge their interest. If a vendor indicates interest in participating, Community Harvest volunteers visit them at the end of each market.
The most successful way to recruit new farms is word-of-mouth. Networking with farmer’s market managers and community contacts with connections to farms and orchards has also been successful. Creating general awareness about the project also helped connect with donor farms. For instance, an article in the local newspaper resulted in several calls by prospective donors. After experiencing success with Craigslist ads for volunteer recruitment, a posting under the Farm & Garden section asking for backyard fruit trees to harvest yielded responses for gleaning opportunities.
During winter, the Gleaning Coordinator schedules visit’s to regular donor farms to review how gleaning worked the previous year, as well as gain an understanding of what the grower may be willing to donate during the upcoming season. Throughout the year, Community Harvest sends out a monthly (or weekly in the height of the harvest season) newsletter sharing the successes and continued activities of the program. This newsletter goes out to past or potential donors who expressed an interest in the program as a way of keeping the program on their radar. Additionally, during the summer, the Gleaning Coordinator or Community Harvest volunteers will touch base with vendors and farmers at the weekly farmers market where Community Harvest has a regular booth. Most important, however, the Gleaning Coordinator maintains a spreadsheet of donor contacts complete with the type of crop potentially available for gleaning, how best to contact the donor, and the nature of the donor’s relationship with Community Harvest. When a particular crop is likely available for gleaning, the Gleaning Coordinator calls or emails (depending on the donor’s preference) the prospective donor to see if any gleaning opportunities are available.
When a donor presents Community Harvest with a gleaning opportunity, the coordinator maintains clear and consistent communication with the donor. The specifics of the donation, where and how the donor is comfortable with volunteers interacting with their property, where volunteers should park, whether bathrooms will be available, how long and how many people will it take to harvest, and how the donor wants the produce harvested are all important questions to be considered in advance of an event. In particular, when discussing the length of harvest, remember donors likely have professional pickers in mind when they calculate the amount of time needed to harvest a crop. As an off-hand rule, volunteer pickers can generally pick half of what a professional picker can harvest in the same length of time.
At the glean, the donor is always invited to speak to volunteers when they arrive on site, and/or give harvesting instructions at the beginning of the event, while respecting that the donor may be busy with other work or ready to head home from the field. Introducing the grower and even doing informal farm tours can be an excellent opportunity to build volunteer-donor relationships.
After each glean event, the Community Harvest Gleaning Coordinator sends a thank-you note to the donor with an enclosed donation receipt. Donors also receive a thank you note at the conclusion of the season. Donor farms and orchards are recognized on the Community Harvest Website, in Facebook posts and newsletters, including links to farm webpage and Facebook when they exist. At the end of the year, all donors are invited to the End of Season Celebration for volunteer and donor appreciation. At this event, donors are recognized for their donations to the program.