Robin Knight, volunteer

When asked why she volunteers for Growing to Give, Robin Knight said, “I go there because I want to feed people.”

Having to work multiple jobs to raise two girls on her own, Robin has experience having to depend on food assistance programs. “I know what it is like to open your fridge or your cabinet and not have a whole lot in there. I know what it’s like to wonder how you’re going to feed your kids. Working to earn a living in public housing, there were plenty of times myself when I had to go for help,” Robin said.

However, back in the 80s, without the food banks and pantries that exist today, food stamps and WIC programs only provided Robin and her girls with items such as milk and cereal. “We couldn’t get vegetables. And it’s so important to have fresh, good healthy food.”

Volunteering for a food bank, Robin came across an advertisement for Growing to Give and immediately responded. “I replied saying, ‘I want to do this.’ I don’t know what it was, but I was like a dog with a bone.”

Though combating hunger motivates Robin to continue volunteering her time at the farm, she has also grown to love the community. “When we walk in there, there is always a plan. We know what we need to do and we do it. And in the process, everyone is so kind to each other.”

Kelly Davis, gleaning partner

Merrymeeting Gleaners

The Merrymeeting Gleaners began working with Growing to Give in 2017. Now, Growing to Give supplies a third of what the Merrymeeting Gleaners donate each year.

Each week, Kelly Davis sends out an email to around 35 different types of organizations serving people who are food insecure in the region, asking how much and which produce they would like to receive. Some organizations hold a standing order with the gleaners and may expect a standard delivery each week.

Next, Kelly coordinates team leaders and volunteers and hands off these lists and instructions for harvesting and delivery.

“We’re always open to taking on more farms, more community partners, and we of course have an ever-evolving list of volunteers,” said Kelly. “If you add to your work, you also have to add your volunteers. And all that kind of has to happen in sync.”

Kelly hopes to continue this model of gradual growth on both ends, which has so far worked exceptionally. Though Kelly has had to make some changes due to COVID-19, the adjustments have not resulted in slowed work or inability to meet need. Rather, volunteers have adjusted to revised protocol and new farms have jumped on board to meet increased need.

Jodi Malone, recipient organization

The Neighborhood Cafe, Bath 

“Good food isn’t just for fancy people,” Jodi said, excited about the fact that she can now provide people with access to fresh vegetables. For the past year, The Neighborhood Cafe in Bath has received produce from Growing to Give through Merrymeeting Gleaners.

This past March, the cafe celebrated its 10th anniversary. For over a decade, the organization has been working to address issues of food insecurity with a focus on building community through the sharing of meals.

Jodi Malone, chief chef, explained that what sets the Neighborhood Cafe apart from other soup kitchens is that there is “no distinct line between service and those served.” Many individuals who come because they need a meal also work as a volunteer for the kitchen. “It’s very important to us that it’s apparent we’re all in this together and no one is above anyone else,” said Jodi.

The cafe serves mostly middle aged and older people, many of whom are living in public housing. Jodi cooks meals for people with not the goal of merely feeding people, but providing individuals with a sense of belonging. “For us, everyone is hungry, but the one we really want to work on is the loneliness.”

Getting people to eat more vegetables is important to Jodi. She recounted that just recently, she observed a man eat a meal, but pushing all of the peas aside. After encouraging him to try just one pea, she was pleased to see that he later finished all of them.

Prior to working with the gleaners group, Jodi relied mostly upon supermarket vegetables that were “on edge.” Since making the switch to locally grown produce, she has not only seen people enjoy their meals more, but actively choose healthier options. “They are realizing that they just don’t need all the sauce and cheese. More and more people are taking the vegetarian and vegan meals and being more adventurous in  general because the vegetables shine,” said Jodi.

While Jodi is accustomed to making somewhere between 60-80 meals per week, in recent months she has made anywhere between 100-120 meals per week. Though her biggest meal times are Sunday dinners and Monday lunches, throughout the course of the course of the week, many people stick their head in the back door and can reliably count on Jodi to put a meal together for them.

“The produce has raised people’s expectations. We’re not gonna settle for mediocre anymore because we don’t have to.”

BJ Warner, volunteer

BJ Warner is currently enrolled in the Cumberland County Master Gardener Program run through the University of Maine. When Growing to Give presented to her class, Warner was immediately impressed by its clear mission.

“It’s the whole package, from climate friendly methods to combating food insecurity in Maine,” said BJ. As someone who is new to the state and has always been interested in fighting hunger, the farm has allowed her to connect with her new community, but do so while immersing herself in something she cares deeply about.

What stands out to her most about Growing to Give is the “connection” which BJ says “happens before I even get out of my car” when she pulls up to the farm in the morning.  While BJ has ample experience with volunteer work, her time at Growing to Give stands out. “As soon as I’m there, it’s organized. Rebecca knows exactly what needs to be done, Theda knows exactly how to demonstrate the task. Everything feels so purposeful.”

Colleen Donlan, gleaning partner

Cumberland County Food Security Council Gleaning Initiative 

Colleen Donlan first became interested in food justice during her time at Colgate University. After graduation, she wanted to address issues of food access in her hometown community, so started working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Cumberland County Food Security Council. As the local foods coordinator, Colleen began organizing the Cumberland County Gleaners program, whose relationship with Growing to Give began in August of 2019.

While Colleen’s initial partnerships only included Wayside Food Programs, she is always looking for ways to expand the network and reach out to communities where there might be gaps or who might be in need.

“One organization in Portland and Lewiston began a food brigade when COVID hit,” said Colleen. “We reached out to them asking if they needed support and then began dropping off food to about 300 to 400 LatinX families.”

While most farms allow gleaners to come only once or twice a season, Growing to Give provides Colleen and her crews with a weekly glean. “Growing to Give has really provided consistent, amazing organic produce to recipient organizations, and that’s been awesome,” said Colleen, explaining the importance of Growing to Give’s reliability.

Not only does Growing to Give provide a weekly glean, but the farm also grows a diversity of produce. “Most of the time I will glean a significant amount of one type of produce, which is great, but being able to supply recipients with 10 different types of produce is really helpful,” said Colleen.

Colleen is also grateful for the way Growing to Give enables volunteers to return to a familiar place regularly: “It’s been so great for volunteers to create those connections with the farmers and each other at the same farm. I think that’s been really powerful and something that doesn’t happen when you’re bouncing around to different farms.”

At Growing to Give, “we’re not gleaning on our own– there’s a lot of support. It’s more of a community,” said Colleen.

Julie Moulton, recipient organization

Harpswell Aging at Home

Harpswell Aging at Home primarily serves older adults, with their weekly lunch program feeding people throughout the Midcoast region.

More recently, the organization has started a summer program called Meals in a Pinch where over 200 volunteers work to cook meals on a weekly basis.

“It’s easy to reach for the cereal box when you’re a 90-plus-year-old,” said Julie Moulton at Harpswell Aging at Home. “We are able to deliver some nice, home-cooked meals.”

With the recent COVID crisis, the organization has adapted to a delivery-based program. Volunteers have been picking up food from the pantry, including fresh vegetables grown at Growing to Give, and taking these ingredients home to cook individually frozen meals. These meals are then distributed to doorsteps of those in need on a regular, weekly drop-off route.

“The generous spirit of this community never ceases to amaze me,” said Julie, reflecting on the volunteers involved in each step of the process from the farmers and gleaners to her cooks deliverers.

Tracy Brant, recipient organization

Weston Associates Properties

Weston Associates Properties is a low income housing community that serves both elderly, disabled populations as well as a family population.

Tracy Brant recognizes that many of her residents do not have access to transportation to pick up the food they need on a regular basis. “Transportation is a big issue. Especially with the COVID crisis, it’s been much more difficult to find people who are willing to deliver,” said Tracy.

In addition to addressing her residents’ problem with access to food, Tracy knows receiving fresh food from Growing to Give through the Androscoggin Gleaners means that her residents will have fresh, nutritious vegetables that they otherwise might not prioritize.

“We’ve been getting wonderful produce for my residents,” said Tracy, happy that she is not only supplying food that feeds, but food that truly nourishes.

Kelly Wallace, volunteer

Kelly Wallace has always been interested in food. After moving to Maine five years ago, working as an architect for a restaurant group, she began volunteering her free time at the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, seeing this as an important step to engage with her new community. Receiving products to process at the food bank, Kelly was struck by the quality of organic vegetables coming from Growing to Give.

Comparing the produce donated from the big box stores (that was about to be thrown out) to the fresh produce from up the road, Kelly was intrigued to learn more about the farm. “The fact that they were growing it for the food bank and for the local community was incredible to me,” said Kelly.

Kelly loves to spend time outside and learn by doing. Especially during quarantine, volunteering at Growing to Give has given her the opportunity to do both. “It was nice to feel like you were accomplishing something and that we were giving back to people who were in even worse circumstances,” said Kelly.

Becca Schoen, gleaning partner

Androscoggin Gleaners

Working for Healthy Androscoggin, a public health organization in Lewiston, Becca chose to work with the Androscoggin Gleaners as a community engagement project in 2018, the same year the organization began working with Growing to Give.

“Because my understanding of gleaning started with Growing to Give, they have really shaped the way I view the gleaning community,” said Becca. She loves the way Growing to Give provides volunteers with the chance to be involved in every part of the farm’s operation.

“I think it’s great to be able to offer volunteers with opportunities to plant, move hoop houses, or help out with a variety of other projects that Growing to Give makes available,” said Becca. “The volunteers really feel like they are a part of making the farm function and it provides a more holistic look at the process for the folks that want to offer their time.”

Comparing the process of gleaning from a farm set up as a business versus a non-profit, Becca explained how there are positives to both. On one hand, harvesting on a for-profit farm feels so rewarding, but, Becca said, “there’s a loyalty and responsibility to the farmer that you feel that is a little different at Growing to Give because you know that their focus is providing fresh food to donate. It’s neat to be able to be involved in a slightly deeper, more integral way.”

Sarah Lundin, recipient organization

Freeport Community Services 

Sarah Lundin, director of programs at Freeport Community Services, was first drawn to the nonprofit five years ago by the low barrier to entry. “We are really able to say yes where a lot of other people say no. If you are in need of food, we are going to help you,” said Sarah.

Previously to her work at FCS, Sarah ran the welfare department for the General Assistance Program in Westbrook where she found herself having to say no to many people who needed help. “It’s pretty awesome to now find myself in a position where I can consistently say yes and truly have an impact on the lives of those we help,” said Sarah.

Prior to the pandemic, the community center was open to the public for people to have coffee, connect with neighbors, wait for the food pantry, or just come to get a break from the heat. Sarah describes the center as “a welcoming place with no assumptions.”

With the center open Monday-Thursday, people may access the food pantry up to three times per week, making food significantly more accessible to community members.

Prior to receiving food from Growing to Give and other local farms, Sarah struggled to “be able to have the healthiest and nicest food [she thinks] everyone deserves.” Sarah reflected, “I think the tough part about a food pantry is that generally you’re not operating with a homogenous budget and we are often at the whim of what’s donated.”

However, with produce from Growing to Give and other local farms, FCS now consistently provides community members with fresh vegetables. “It’s a novelty for those using the food pantry to have produce that is going to last longer than 24 hours,” said Sarah, appreciative of the partnership with the gleaners.

“I feel like I’m fortunate to be able to see the level of appreciation that people have for the beautiful produce that you guys don’t get to see. People are excited! They’ll pick up a zucchini and say, ‘this is perfect for stuffed zucchini. I’m going to do that later this week.’ Just to witness that is really cool.”

These wonderful community testimonials were gathered by Holly Harris, a Bowdoin intern who spent a month with us this summer. Thank you, Holly!