by Caroline Croom
The Society of St. Andrew, a non-profit dedicated to gleaning nutritious produce and distributing it to agencies serving the underserved, is tucked inside the far end of a winding hallway on the second floor of Broadmeadow United Methodist Church. The barren, quiet room shows little signs of use.
“Our job really isn’t in the office much… between March and October I’m barely in the office. June and July… I’m always in a field everyday,” says Andy Lemmon, the Mississippi and Arkansas program coordinator.
“Every year at the farm level, not counting pre-production levels, pre-distributors, pre-fridges, pre-grocery stores, pre-plates, we waste about a billion pounds of food a year.” That’s a lot of meals rotting in fields.
Since Lemmon started working in the Jackson office in March of 2015, the group has gathered 2,133,000 pounds of food, had more than 650 volunteers, and more than 250 events. Lemmon says events range from “one guy going out to his neighbor’s farm and picking… to 60 to 70 people out there picking all day long.”
One of SoSA’s biggest Jackson events is the sweet potato crop drop held at Jackson State University.
“We get dump trucks and fill them with sweet potatoes and we just dump them in a big pile. We have volunteers that come out and start bagging the potatoes. At JSU we expected to have 100 volunteers and with 20,000 pounds, we thought it would take four hours. But, we had 200 hard-working volunteers and it took us two hours. It blew all our minds.”
From there, different local organizations such as Stewpot Ministries, Gateway Mission, and Lizzie’s House pick up the food to serve or distribute. “We like the food to go back locally,” Lemmon said. “It makes a difference for a farmer to donate food, then a farmer to say, ‘I trust your organization, you’ll maintain my fields and the food can go help his neighbors directly.’”
As Lemmon swipes through photos – tomatoes, lettuce, watermelon, cantaloupe, corn, blueberries, squash, potatoes, and beans gleaned throughout the year – he simultaneously recalls the characters and connections those fields establish: A squash farmer carrying a “good-looking squash bucket” to sell and an “ugly-looking squash bucket” to donate, an older man willing to haul anything across the state as long as he can stay inside his air-conditioned truck.
Lemmon also recalls a farmer willing to volunteer his crops, but reluctant to “meet some of the volunteer. (the farmer) gets there and finds out that he lives next door to the pastor that’s leading the group, and (asks), ‘If it’s okay with you, you don’t have to come out and glean my fields. When I’m done picking, I’ll just drop a box off at (the pastor’s) house.’ You make that community, (the farmer) prevents the wasted food and the community builds again. He sees the people who are receiving it. Building that community, you instantly alleviate need. Everyone’s invested. Our goals get achieved anyway.”
It is no surprise to see community being built on Christian principles and farming in the South. Yet, SoSA seems to be offering something new.
As Southern states move further away from agriculture, the organization is revisiting what’s already here. Working tirelessly to culturally ingrain a cross-pollination between farmers and families, they are redefining connections between place, people and the proffer of the land. SoSA gleans tomatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, partnership, community, and kindness from the soil. And as it takes from tradition, it redefines, so not only the past is gleaned from the harvest, but its adaptations too.
“Our region, it’s a big small town. When you find the right people, you get [them] motivated. People love making a difference.”