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Q & A: Tonia Anderson

West Tennessee Gleaning Coordinator for the Society of St. Andrew

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The Society of St. Andrew, which was established in Big Island, Virginia, in 1979 and began its food ministry in 1983, is a national organization that works to eliminate food waste and hunger by collecting unwanted or unused food from farmers and other purveyors. Last year, the Society of St. Andrew began its first gleaning program in West Tennessee. We sat down with gleaning coordinator, Tonia Anderson, to find out how the first year went. — Hannah Sayle

Memphis Flyer: What does a “gleaning coordinator” do?
Tonia Anderson: My mission is to work with farmers either at markets or in their fields and also with volunteers and hunger relief agencies in the 19 westernmost counties of Tennessee to reduce food waste and hunger. We collect anything that farmers can’t sell because they’ve got too much of it, it’s too bruised, it’s too ripe, they’re going to pick again tomorrow, they can’t use it at home or give it to the neighbors.

What do you do once you’ve collected the produce?
We weigh the food and take it to local food pantries to distribute to those in need. Between 2012 and 2013, we delivered food to 24 hunger relief agencies in Shelby County and five agencies in other counties in West Tennessee.

How was your first season in West Tennessee?
I worked primarily at markets last year, which was a great way to make contacts with farmers and get to know them. The nature of the work is such that every time you leave a gleaning, you feel like you’ve done something tangible to help someone.

So how many pounds of food were you able to glean last year?
Last year, we gleaned about 35,000 pounds. Farmers may have come from Mississippi or Arkansas or other counties in Tennessee, but we gleaned almost entirely from markets in Shelby County. One of my goals for this year is to get out into the fields more, especially now that farmers are comfortable working us. Farmers have to trust us when we come out into the fields. Henry Jones of Jones Orchard has already offered to have us glean at the farm, and I’m hoping to also do a strawberry gleaning out at the Agricenter.

It sounds like you’ve gotten a good response from farmers and vendors.
They love what we’re doing and they’re so generous, especially considering what it takes to be a farmer and the risks. The fact that they can still be so generous when last year, they had a bad drought and this year, it’s been so wet and cold that they were six weeks behind getting their crops in the ground.

How do you decide what’s worth saving?
I work closely with food pantry coordinators at churches or other organizations to be sure we’re getting them what they need, but we usually let the agencies make the decisions. We just collect everything we can. If we have tomatoes that are fine but are maybe mushy to where you wouldn’t put them in someone’s bag at the food pantry, we’ll work with one of the St. John’s United Methodist Church volunteers who uses them to make soup base for the soup kitchen. And then at the United Methodist Neighborhood Center, they’ll take peaches and put them in storage bags in the freezer with a cobbler recipe on it.

Interested in gleaning? Contact Tonia Anderson at 596-0122, gleanwesttn@endhunger.org.

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