Connecting the dots between farmers and food agencies

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Dee Reid! Dee is a Glean Team Leader at the Ventura Farmers Market and a wonderful addition to our team. Dee is very detail-oriented and super dependable as a volunteer leader. She is personable and engaging with the volunteers, and enthusiastic about our work, which makes her a great Food Forward ambassador at the Ventura Farmers Market! Dee is also is very positive and looks on the bright sides of things, which makes volunteering with her that much more enjoyable. 🙂 

 

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward and what drew you to our work and mission?
Before moving to Ojai, I lived in a small town in North Carolina, where I blogged about the amazing sustainable agricultural movement there. I wrote about local organic farmers, food co-ops, and farm-to-table eateries. But I noticed an important gap in our noteworthy food chain: not everyone in our community had access to this bounty. So I began volunteering at one of our farmer’s markets where we collected donations to purchase food directly from farmers, which would then be donated to a weekly free community lunch where everyone was welcome, no questions asked. Bingo! By supporting both the people who grow healthy food and the people who most needed it, we began closing at least part of the gap in our food system.

When my husband and I retired and moved to Ojai last year, I began looking for a volunteer opportunity where I could again connect farmers with people who lack access to fresh food. I found Food Forward online and loved the story of how it all began when a young man noticed unharvested oranges growing in his neighborhood that were going to waste, while the food banks were overwhelmed by people who needed food. The idea of providing hungry households with fresh local food really attracted me. Food Forward immediately responded to my query and informed me that I could quickly be trained as a volunteer gleaner at the Ventura market, not far from where I live.

 

What was your first volunteer day like? How would you describe the volunteer experience at a glean?
Food Forward made it easy to become a market gleaner. They provided all of the information, materials and training. I was so impressed with how organized they were. My first day, I was volunteering with others who already knew what to do. It was easy to ask the farmers if they wanted to donate to Food Forward; all of them already knew our mission and many were happy to give us fresh food that might otherwise go to waste. By the end of my first day at the Ventura Farmer’s Market when we handed off a large load of fresh food to a local food agency, I knew I would stay involved. Now I love leading the glean team, each time working with an eager crew of volunteers of all ages. It’s both fun and rewarding.

 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
I like meeting our generous farmers and glean volunteers, and the amazing people who work at our local food agencies. My favorite part of our two-hour shift is when we have collected and packed up hundreds of pounds of fresh food and we get to hand it directly to the good folks from our local food agencies. They come to pick up what we collect, so they can distribute it the very next day to a throng of people who really need it and will appreciate it.

I can’t think of any other job where I could directly feel that I had accomplished something so much in such a short period of time.  Connecting the dots between farmers and food agencies makes my day every time.

I also love being part of an organization that is building a stronger community of people connected to healthy food and making sure it gets distributed across the wider community. By addressing hunger and food waste, we are also addressing climate change because food left in the field or sent to the landfill emits greenhouse gas emissions. That’s important to me.

 

Dee with her trusty (carbon free) electric bike! 

 

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I volunteer at student food gardens at two elementary schools in Ojai, where the kids learn all about growing, harvesting, and enjoying healthy food.  When the garden dries out, they save the seeds and store them in personally decorated packets for the school’s seed bank and next year’s garden.

I am also an avid hiker and bicyclist, enthralled by the local trails and mountains. In fact cycling is my primary means of transportation (we use our one car mostly for long-distance trips). I often ride my electric bike from Ojai to the Ventura Market, a scenic 30-mile round-trip made easier by battery support. I co-chair a local bike-to-school program, where we encourage kids to walk or bike to school, and we provide safe group rides to escort them.  This year we worked with more than 200 students and had a throng of students and adults of all ages cycling together with us in the Ojai Fourth of July Parade. Recently we collected about 20 gently used bikes donated by the community, which we will tune-up and distribute to kids who need them in time for Bike to School Week Sept. 30-Oct. 4.

A common thread among all of these interests, is my love of the great outdoors and my concern about climate change.  Growing and eating local food is good for our health, the environment, and the climate. And biking has cut my transportation carbon footprint in half. Just for fun, I have started a Twitter news feed (@ClimateMovers) to track best practices for addressing climate change in communities across the world.

 

Any words of wisdom you live by?
A self-centered life is no life at all. My secret for a good life has always been to reach beyond my own little bubble to work with others to strengthen the wider community. I have learned that by doing this you might just make a difference and you will probably make some new friends.

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