A glorious autumn day was had by families and buddies alike on 13th October at Ockford Farm and Orchard in Northiam, Kent, harvesting apples with the wonderful Gleaning Project.
Children and their parents from three of the Syrian families, buddies Lyndsay and Justin, and other groups including Bands of Brothers from Eastbourne and Hastings, Heart of Hastings community Land Trust Bottom-up development team, and Ore Men’s group and their families -altogether 45 people – worked together throughout the day, picking and juicing apples that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The purpose of our visit was twofold: firstly, we had to turn these hundreds of russet apples into pure juice and distribute the surplus juice and fruit to local charities; and secondly, the trip was to raise our awareness about food waste in general.
On arrival, Angie, the owner, split us up into several different groups. These corresponded to the different processes of juice making. I joined the apple washing group. We worked at breakneck speed to try and keep up with the boxes of apples being brought from the orchards by the younger members of our party. It turned out that one of the Syrian mums was an experienced juice maker. She had fruit orchards on the family farm back in Syria and the activity brought back happy memories of better times.
A picnic lunch followed, with everyone sharing their food in the garden of Angie’s beautiful thatched cottage. Thank goodness we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine. All the families spoke of how good it felt to be working in the open air on such a fine day and surrounded by fields of fruit trees and green hills.
After lunch it was back to work and our first job was to macerate the apples, and then to juice them. I think we were all in awe as gallons of golden apple juice poured from the juicer. The final stages were bottling the produce, then sterilisation. 160 bottles of apple juice were pressed and later shared with charities such as Fareshare.
What stood out was the way everyone just mucked in and helped each other; a real sense of goodwill and friendship prevailed. It was very enjoyable to meet other people from different countries and on different journeys but all with a shared sense of friendship. Indeed, a real sense of community developed throughout the day, and many people often marginalised in their day-to-day lives were able to contribute in important ways with both the physical labour and sharing their feelings of empowerment and connection; what Frances Moore Lappe calls a “Spiral of Empowerment”.
This event provided the best kind of experience for our new fellow citizens, the families from Syria who are finding sanctuary and new lives here in Hastings and the surrounding areas. To take part in the fundamentally important work of this brilliant project of the Gleaning Network, in tackling the wastage of food so prevalent in our society, gave the families an excellent opportunity to contribute to their new community, and the chance to meet many others from this wider community.
Days later, the families all had the same question, “When can we go back to the farm again?” Hopefully, October 2019!