By Kristin Hackler
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor.” – Leviticus 19:9-10
Jackie Behr grew up during the Depression. In the 1930s, the only fresh vegetables she and her family could afford were the ones they grew in their yard, and as the cold weather settled in, the whole family worked to can, preserve and freeze their harvest for the winter. It was a way of life that Jackie held on to throughout the years and when she and her late husband moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1988 they saw the need to share their knowledge with the community. Not because there wasn’t a well-developed agricultural community across the islands, but because the poor of the area couldn’t afford to eat much fresh produce; a problem which Jackie and her husband understood all too well.
Ten years ago, Jackie and her husband started Fields to Families, a nonprofit organization which helps the hungry in our community gain access to nutritious fruits and vegetables. With the passing of her husband, Jackie took it upon herself to continue the mission in his honor. Three years ago, Fields to Families reaped their first harvest and to date have collected more than 200,000 pounds of fresh produce to be distributed across the Lowcountry through churches, civic organizations and food pantries.
“That’s about three semi’s worth of food,” smiled Jim Calhoun as he tugged a length of dollar weed from a raised bed. For the second Saturday in a row, a group of volunteers descended upon a residential home off Mary Anne Point Drive on Johns Island to prepare 27 raised beds for planting. The beds have been used for years, and the owner was happy to point out the best spots for certain vegetables and which areas got the best sun. The front yard of this kind couple is the second of two residential properties which have been loaned to the Fields to Families program. Throughout the year, volunteers will drop by the gardens and water, weed, and care for the crops, and come harvest, all of the produce will go to shelters and churches.
Other volunteers spend their time gleaning from various farms after they’ve finished their harvest. Boone Hall Plantation, Robert Fields Farms, Robertson’s Farms and Rosebank Farms have all been incredibly generous to the cause. In fact, volunteer leader Geoff Cormier remembers last year when a group went to Rosebank to glean what was left from the corn harvest.
“I asked Sidi how much we could take,” said Geoff, smiling. “He just grinned and said ‘take all of it.’ A couple hours later we had barely gleaned a corner and couldn’t carry everything we’d gathered.”
Another rainy afternoon was spent out at Joseph Fields, where soaking wet volunteers gleaned 1580 pounds of collard greens; the most any one group of volunteers had ever gleaned. “That worked out to 1200 meals,” said volunteer Ann Calhoun.
“The need is just unreal,” said founder Jackie Behr. “People don’t realize. This [the need for fresh produce] doesn’t happen in that area, it happens in your area, all around you. You don’t know it, but it is.”
Volunteers are definitely needed this time of year and until the end of the fall harvest. There’s no regular schedule to keep: if you have the time, check with Fields to Families and see what you can do. Volunteers aren’t just needed for gardening, they’re needed to help glean, run booths at farmer’s markets, hand out materials and distribute food to different agencies. But if you want to learn more about vegetable gardening, this is an excellent opportunity. For more information about Fields to Families, visit www.FieldstoFamilies.org, call 388-2487 or email email@example.com.