Jeni, gleaning coordinator

A week in the life of a gleaning coordinator

Jenni Duncan – Coordinator for Mid and West Cornwall

Hi I’m Jeni and I joined the gleaning network in September 2021 after discovering an advert for the role of area coordinator on Social Media.

My first glean was coordinating the harvest of a huge glut of courgettes along with my fellow coordinator Kels . We were both incredibly keen to get involved, not least as food poverty was beginning to soar within the County and U.K. wide.

Living in Cornwall, located closely to some of the biggest producers, and seeing crops in the fields that were seemingly going to waste or being ploughed in, it felt like the ideal opportunity to make a difference, and help my local community.My background is in the events industry, having worked at festivals across the UK for nearly 3 decades. The majority of the roles I’ve encountered over the years have required a good level of organisational, logistical, and communication skills, alongside a love of the outdoors in all weathers. I was destined to fit in with the Gleaning Cornwall Network.

So my role as a coordinator involves various elements but typically my week goes a bit like this:My daily rolesOn a daily basis there are WhatsApp messages to attend to, emails that need replies, as well as checking in with our Administration & Distribution Manager to chat about any new charities, or sources of gleaning. Then there’s driving out to different locations to collect vegetables gleaned from other areas and distribute locally to me. Or I may be chatting with the press or writing something like this to add content to our website!I usually message farmers and field managers in my area mid week to enquire about any fields of produce that have been harvested and are now ready to glean.Generally I will be sent a pin drop to a location, and now it’s time to don my ‘Challenge Aneeka’ outfit, dashing off in the trusty pick up to look at a field. Recceing allows me to see if any spots have a better quantity of quality of produce than others. I’d also be checking the road to see the access and what the parking looks like for our volunteers.

Is it safe? Is it easy for them to find? Do I need to take pictures to aid navigation?

Next job is to contact Teresa , who along with a long list of other roles is the person who organises our distribution. Teresa will contact charities up and down the county asking their requirements for this particular vegetable.Next, contacting volunteers via Social media and emails, inviting them to join us at the glean, giving date, location, time and weather so they know to bring waterproofs and wellies…or sun hats and suncream…or both!

Gleaning day I’m up and at it early doors!

There’s the pickup to pack with all manner of crates or sacks depending on the produce, PPE, hot flasks, snacks, drinks, waterproofs, wellies and tarpaulins and ratchet straps!It’s always such a joy to arrive to the field on glean day, the journey often takes me to hidden places, with stunning views, and early in the morning there is always an abundance of wildlife to catch a glimpse of.

On arrival its great welcoming our trusty volunteers, who arrive with happy smiles, eager to scoop up kilos of vegetables. Everyone is keen to know how much produce there is to harvest that day so there is a goal to work towards.When new volunteers arrive It’s my job to show them how to pick carefully and safely using the PPE gloves and knives, the way we pack our crates or sacks, not overfilling so they are safe to lift. We pick our way methodically through the fields aiming to not miss anything of use.I will also be constantly monitoring my phone to ensure I can guide to the field anyone who may be lost, although this happens rarely.

Once everyone is happily cutting veg, there are photos to be taken for Social Media posts or the website, checking that folks are happy and have enough sacks or crates, or driving to collect full sacks from the field to count. All produce needs to be weighed, so I weigh a few bags or crates and take an average. These figures, along with other stats, are needed for ongoing funding applications.There’s often a change in orders on the day, so I will be keeping an eye on distribution to ensure no organisation or charity’s order is missed.

When we’ve been going for an hour or so we’ll stop for a break. Out come flasks and snacky treats for a well earned tea break, also an opportunity to chat, socialise, and enjoy the scenery. Often we are blessed to have long vistas or seascapes, Cornwall is a beautiful county with stunning countryside flora and fauna. Some of our volunteers have been gleaning for over a year now and have become friends. Most also carshare, so there is a real social aspect of coming to a glean, its really lovely to see this, especially as we formed not long after the Covid pandemic.

After tea I will have done a count up so we know how much more there is to pick or cut, and we will keep going until we have the correct amount ordered by each charity. Most gleans are around 3-4 hours from start to finish for the volunteers. Often volunteers often offer to distribute to a charity who have ordered in their area, this is hugely helpful as it keeps our food miles to a minimum.

Vehicles are packed, goodbyes said, and the lovely volunteers head off. Next for me is packing the trailer that takes produce to our hubs near Indian Queens, Bodmin and Liskeard with our amazing volunteer distribution driver Jim, or “proper Jim” as we fondly have named him. From here food is distributed, to the North, Moorlands region and East of the county by other volunteer drivers, gleaning coordinators and charities. I will then head off with the remaining produce to deliver to hubs in the west of the county any other charities who are in need.

Once deliveries are complete I can message charities to come and collect orders from their local Hub. We often see produce moving from field to plate in 24 hours, which is great as it means the vegetables withhold optimum nutritional value, this is essential to the well-being of recipients.

On arriving home, it’s unpack the pickup, wash the gloves, knives, cups, flasks etc., refill the tea/coffee and treats ready for the next glean.

If its been a wet glean, there will be muddy boots and waterproofs to hose down and the pickup to be jet washed too.

The end of the day is for posting thank yous to the farm that offered the produce and to our wonderful volunteers, adding photos of the glean.

Finally put my feet up and have a well earned cuppa!

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