Monday, September 28, 2009

Stories of Christina Jogoleff and Mauricio Macias

Christina and Mauricio, two folks in their 20s with deep ties to Watsonville, started gleaning for somewhat different reasons. They talked about the multiple, nuanced connections in their lives (and family histories) to gleaning. Their candor and their commitment come through in their descriptions of their relationship to gleaning, their efforts to expand the ranks of gleaners to be more representative (particularly of the Watsonville area), and in the connections they make between their lives and politics and their family histories.

Christina talked about her mother and father's sides of the family. Her mother identifies with her Irish roots. Her father has mixed Mexican and Russian heritage. There was tension between the two families, she says, because her mother's side of the family disapproved of Christina's father. And there was a certain tension within her father between the Russian capitalist and the Mexican sides of his background. Christina talked about the complex heritage of her mother's Michigan farm roots, her urban San Diego childhood, and her father's early history of work as a saboteur and spy for the UFW during the farm worker strikes. She traces some of her interest in growing food to her mother and her mother's mother. But when she thinks of fields and field work, she thinks of the injustices her father told her about, not about the Michigan corn fields on her mother's side of the family. Her father's two heroes, he told her, were Cesar Chavez and Jesus Christ. The lessons he passed on to Christina from Chavez were peace (including peaceful resistance), tolerance (accepting difference), and giving back to your community. Her aunt and uncle started the Cesar Chavez Service Clubs which have spread from San Diego throughout southern California.

Mauricio's mother and father came from farming families in central Mexico. The main crop was corn on his mother's side and guavas on his father's. Together, his parents immigrated illegally to California. Mauricio remembers the cornfields and storms from early in his childhood, when his family returned to visit their families in Mexico. And he remembers the collective process of scraping the kernels from the dried ears of colorful corn. His father was politically active, fighting for water rights for their community when a US oil company sought to move into the region, threatening both land and water. The cruelties of agribusiness impacted both families and led to his parents leaving Mexico. Of the 7 children in the family, only Mauricio and one older brother were born in this country. Though his father died when Mauricio was 8, he passed on his political passion to Mauricio.

Remarkable and very rich stories.

Listen to Christina and Mauricio's Stories

Nick Pavlina's Stories

Nick grew up in the Santa Clara Valley when it was "The Valley of Heart's Desire", full of orchards and fruit canneries. Both the Croat and Russian (Volga German) sides of his family came to California around the turn of the century and went into fruit farming. Nick picked apricots, sold his grandfather's apples at a ramshackle roadside stand, and worked summers at the canneries putting himself through college. Then, as the developers were moving into the valley, the orchards were being uprooted, the canneries were relocating to their new fruit sources, and "The Valley of Heart's Desire" morphed into "Silicon Valley", Nick followed a similar trajectory into software design.

Listen to Nick's Stories

September 4th: More Iceberg Lettuce!

For this inaugural Friday glean, fewer than 30 gleaners met at the Giant Artichoke in Castroville and caravaned to a field a few miles south owned by Ocean Mist. Henry pulled the flatbed truck up close to the field, so we didn't have to carry our baskets too far. A couple of the young men tended the bins on the truck and saved our backs by exercising theirs. The comraderie was wonderful. A breeze kicked up, making a balmy day even more pleasant. With fewer gleaners than the Saturday gleans have been getting, it took the whole morning to fill the 6 big cardboard bins with over 5000 pounds of lettuce. Fortunately, there were more nice solid, rot-free heads to glean than there were last time.
One of the highlights of the glean was the Brunson family who worked well together. The daughter, Janie, is blind, a Braille competition champion, and an inveterate reader and creative writer. Another highlight was the chance to talk to Ag Against Hunger driver Henry Arias. He talked about his 40-year career with an ice company and about the changes he saw in produce refrigeration and handling.

Listen to stories from the September 4th glean

Friday, September 4, 2009

August 29: Iceberg Lettuce

The day threatened to be hot and humid, with a whiff of smoke in the air from the fires to the south. The field was one of Ocean Mist's near Castroville, just a short drive from the Giant Artichoke where we all met. Plenty of iceberg lettuce left in the field, so with 50 or so gleaners working together, we made short work of filling the 9 big cardboard bins on the flatbed truck: an hour and a half to cut, clean, carry, and load over 8000 pounds of lettuce. With two microphones, we collected some fun stories: one of the gleaners running from bull oxen in a sweet potato field in S. Korea; another doing “urban gleaning” of bread and pastry from grocery stores in San Jose for the food pantry; mother-daughter teams working with the homeless and hungry; and the field manager explaining some of the huge changes that heightened concern about food safety has brought to the fields; and more. Two of our project members from Seattle were down helping out: Rusten's sister Suze and her friend/intern Kenya. They gleaned a while, then grabbed a microphone and headed out to collect stories, too.

Listen to stories from the August 29th glean

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stories of Sandra Koelle

Sandra first brought Agnes Varda's film The Gleaners and I (Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse) to our attention and, in some important ways, inspired the Gleaning Stories project.

Sandra and her younger sister are avid gleaners now. When I asked Sandra how she became a gleaner, she began talking about her mother, who grew up in Germany during the period of post-WWII scarcity. Sandra was born in Germany, then the family moved to Japan when she was 5, and to New York when she was 9. Her mother gleaned on all three continents, sometimes embarrassing her daughters as she inquired of neighbors and even strangers if they could glean their orchards, fields, or gardens. Her mother was committed to avoiding waste and not letting opportunities to grow or collect food slip past.

The first part of our conversation traces Sandra's mother's odyssey from casual backyard and roadside gleaning to impassioned, almost obsessive, gleaning of commercial agricultural fields in Switzerland where she moved later in her life to take care of her own mother. The remaining parts trace Sandra's own path from reluctant childhood gleaner to impassioned adult gleaner, community gardener, and dumpster diver.

Listen to Sandra's stories

Saturday, August 8, 2009

August 8: Iceberg Lettuce

Another morning of iceberg lettuce, this time just north of Salinas in fields owned by Martin Jefferson & Sons. And real gleaning. The commercial harvesters (some of whom we could see in the field next to ours) had been through this field awhile ago, so it took some real dedication and lots of back-bending and lifting to find fresh heads in a sea of harvest remains. Lots of brown leaves to strip, and we had to be careful to check the cores for rot. But we managed to glean over 8000 pounds of lettuce for the food banks and found plenty to take home ourselves. As always, by glean's end we'd only made a small dent in what was there for the taking. The differences between us gleaners and the commercial farmworkers working in the field next to ours were stark. They worked apace, keeping up with the tractor-pulled conveyor belt that dumped the heads in cardboard bin after bin on the flatbed right there in the field. In contrast, we filled our plastic crates and carried them a couple of minutes' walk to a pickup truck that shuttled our lettuce the two hundred yards or so back to where others of us lifted and dumped our crates into bins in the Ag Against Hunger semi. The camaraderie was great and spirits were high. Church groups from as far away as Burlingame, international students from the Monterey Institute, and nursery workers from Driscoll's Strawberries swelled our numbers, but it still took until noon to fill 12 bins. Good hard work on a sunny day, and worth the effort, but there were some tired looking folks headed back to their cars when we'd finished.

Listen to stories from the August 8th glean

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 25: Gleaning Plums

A real glean in an organic plum orchard near Castroville. The farm had been in the same family since the late 19th century. We were doing the third pass through this orchard, so pickings were slim. It took sharp eyes and a little luck to find the remaining plums that were ripe but not over-ripe. The ground was dotted with too-ripe plums that had already dropped, and we had to be careful shaking the trees not to bruise the remaining fruit. Still, we gleaned a couple of hundred pounds of wonderful San Jose plums that the food banks and food pantries will be delighted to get. And we got to take plums home. Most of us grabbed bags of slightly over-ripe fruit to slurp immediately or cook into a favorite jam or sauce.

Listen to stories from the July 25th glean