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Gleaning and Growing Gardens

Rachel’s Table recently received a three-year federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for more than $300,000. Part of the USDA’s Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP) program, this grant will support further growth of the Bea’s Harvest gleaning initiative and Growing Gardens, including:

  • Increasing pounds gleaned from 10,000 per year to 54,000 per year;
  • Implementing a robust registration and data management system for gleaning;
  • Initiating the development of a regional network of gleaning organizations;
  • Fostering increased youth engagement and leadership;
  • Exploring food-related employment pathways for food-insecure people as well as economic incentives for farmers;
  • Expanding Growing Gardens into Hampshire and/or Franklin Counties, and;
  • Significantly increasing staff capacity to develop and implement these programs.

In all these realms of expansion, equity and agency remain at the center of our awareness. Based on interest expressed by Growing Gardens partners, we will support exploration of market opportunities for Growing Gardens participants, such as creating and selling their own value-added products or opening a farm stand. We will also support exploration of pathways such as participants facilitating gardening workshops themselves, or by providing paid part-time jobs to youth.

Also central to our awareness is the regenerative capacity of the land. We are blessed in Western Massachusetts with incredible topsoil, which has been deposited over thousands of years in the floodplain of the Kwinitekw/Connecticut River. Each year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of food produced by local farms gets sent to landfills or tilled under the soil. This USDA grant will enable us to explore economic incentives for farmers who participate in our Bea’s Harvest gleaning initiative so that we can get more of this food to people who need it while supporting them in meeting their bottom lines. For example, might farmers be compensated for the produce they donate through purchasing programs or a once-per-season “equity fee” paid by Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shareholders (people who support farmers by purchasing a share at the beginning of the growing season and picking up produce weekly throughout the season)? If we want all people to have access to healthy food, then we need to better support farmers who keep the land healthy and provide food for us all.

Youth engagement is another focus of this programmatic expansion. Over the past year, we have worked to bring teen leadership into organizational visioning and decision making. For example, Rachel’s Table Teen Board members now attend monthly Board meetings and have worked with RT staff to produce several intergenerational events. With the support of this USDA, grant, we aim to integrate teens further into Growing Gardens as well as foster cross-pollination between the Teen Board and other local youth food system leadership groups, such as Gardening The Community and HomeCity Housing. We also aim to engage more youth who are not yet involved in Teen Board or Growing Gardens. This world will be inherited by today’s youth, and their visions and voices are integral to food system change and food access for all.

This USDA grant requires a 25% cash match. Arbella Insurance Foundation’s generous support has helped us meet a significant portion of this match. If you would like to contribute to the remaining $48,000 we require for this match, please visit

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