The work we do at Farm Fresh RI wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers. We hold enormous gratitude for all of our past, present, and future volunteers!
Today we are celebrating Melinda Mailhot. Melinda began volunteering with Hope’s Harvest during the pandemic when she was looking for an opportunity to be active and socialize outside. As a former volunteer at Olneyville Food Center, one of our hunger relief agency partners, she was also familiar with Hope’s Harvest donations and had seen firsthand the appreciation for the donated produce among Food Center customers.
Gleaning was a perfect opportunity for Melinda, who was drawn to volunteering with Hope’s Harvest because of its safety during the pandemic, but also because she was able to meet other volunteers and work alongside like-minded people while getting exercise. Being somewhat new to Rhode Island, gleaning was also a chance for her to see new parts of the state.
A gleaning memory that stands out to Melinda is harvesting kale at Arcadian Fields Organic Farm during her first season volunteering with us. She was impressed by the abundance that the same kale plants produced in one season there. Melinda also was able to learn from the founding farmer, Diana, who is exacting in her care for her plants and harvest method. Another memory that stands out in Melinda’s mind is Diana’s beautiful wildflower field, which blooms in midsummer.
Before her industrious career in public health, Melinda’s background has roots in the field of agriculture. In college, Melinda studied agricultural sciences, conducted research with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and even served in the Peace Corps in Niger where she acted as an agriculture extension agent. Despite moving on from agriculture and into public health, Melinda retains her love for physical and outdoor work, spending time on farms, and learning from farmers.
Beyond her volunteering experiences, Melinda has an astute understanding of the issues borne from the commercial food system that dominates the food and agriculture industry in our country; she situates Hope’s Harvest within this broader context. She appreciates that, in contrast to the dominant impersonal, money-driven food system, she is able to meet local Rhode Island farmers who farm with great care and intention, valuing their sustainable methods as well as the quality of their produce that ends up on the tables of their neighbors.
When asked if she has a favorite farm at which to glean, Melinda replies, “All of them.” She goes on to list a handful of farms and the things she likes about each of them. Corn, she explains, is her favorite crop to glean: it’s fun to harvest and easily generates a large quantity of food. It’s also popular among many of the hunger relief agencies we work with because their customers really appreciate it.
Melinda’s advice for future gleaners is to just try it out: “Do it. Sign up and do it.” By just giving gleaning a try, you’ll learn something, meet some cool people, and get to see a local farm. She also emphasizes the importance of being respectful of the farmers and their labor: “They put their trust in us gleaners as guests on their farm.” Of course, as an experienced gleaner Melinda adds onto that: “On hot, sunny summer days don’t forget to bring water and a hat!”
Melinda appreciates that gleaning with Hope’s Harvest has enabled her to visit different farms, learn from and support impressive local farmers, and spend time with other knowledgeable volunteers — all while knowing that the food she’s harvesting goes to folks who need it.
Thank you, Melinda, for your commitment to Hope’s Harvest, your grace under challenging conditions, and your eagerness to learn new things and be helpful in any way you can!