Well, the first animate greeting – as we drove in, rows of kale, chard, and other hearty greens waved their leafy fingers in welcome. We’d be “gleaning” one of First Light Farm’s other crops, however. Gleaning is the second harvest, collecting still-bountiful crops that have small imperfections that render them unfit for restaurants and farmer’s markets. As we entered the rustic barn, a burlap-covered mountain of potatoes and an old-fashioned conveyor belt awaited our selection process. We sifted through sack after sack, selecting potatoes with minor bug damage, small splotches of green – I was struck by how much food was still left after the first pass, and how much we left behind.
And then, the truck came in. With 500 pounds of potatoes perched firmly in the truck bed, we wound our way along the back roads to Santa Rosa. Waves of nostalgia washed over me as we reached our final destination – Worth Our Weight, the culinary apprenticeship program that was the recipient of our delivery, is located at the outskirts of my Montgomery High School campus. Worth Our Weight is an apprenticeship program for at-risk kids, and diners at the culinary school’s one-room restaurant are not charged for their delicious meal – they choose an appropriate donation. The potatoes were going toward something different, though – for the past 23 years, Evelyn, the director of the culinary education program, has been cooking free Christmas meals for anyone that calls in and has the need. The potatoes – an estimated 300 pounds of starchy, unscathed flesh in the 500 pounds we brought over – would be transformed into the mashies on these wonderful plates. The farm, the smiles of the youth as they unloaded the heavy boxes from the truck bed, and the deep caring behind Evelyn’s charitable work put me in the holiday spirit.