Lani has been a huge asset to our gleaning program. Not only does she volunteer regularly in the fields, she is also a great advocate for us in the community. Genna Williams, our Gleaning and Community Outreach Coordinator in the Southern Region, is so grateful for all of her help and dedication to getting fresh food to our neighbors who need it!

Lani WhartonLani, let’s start with: where are you from?

I was born on the coast of Maine and grew up there and in the Mad River Valley of Vermont.  I’ve lived my life, so far, in the New England states with a few years in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin and Italy.

Where do you live now?

I live in Putney with my husband, Sam, who can often be seen helping me with Foodbank pickups and some gleans.  We recently renovated a house for our three cats who allow us to share it with them.

Please tell us more about yourself.

Sam and I are officially retired having closed our business of 16 years as manufacturer’s representatives for custom fenestration products.

My formal education was in Commercial Art, but I found that I didn’t thrive on a life full of deadlines so I turned my focus to family, numerous house renovations and to volunteer for The Maine Children’s Cancer Program, The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, 7 Rivers Habitat for Humanity and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. As a volunteer at MCHPP, a friend and I started a program to salvage produce from local farmer’s markets for redistribution at the local Food Pantry.

My hobbies and interests include WWOOFing (volunteering on organic farms), Gleaning for the Vermont Foodbank, acting Volunteer Coordinator for the Putney Foodshelf, caring for animals, community gardening, cooking, reading, photography and spending time with my family and friends.

7-24 Variety from Deep Meadow Farm and Old Athens FarmTell us about your favorite food/meal/recipe.

My favorite recipes are those that I can make from my garden at the end of the day. Combinations of fresh, colorful vegetables combined with whole grains, local cheeses or meats are my idea of the perfect meal to share with others. I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like. OK, I don’t love collards or okra.

How long have you been a volunteer with us?

I started gleaning for the Vermont Foodbank soon after moving to Putney in September of 2013.

Describe the work that you do with us.

Gleaning is what I do for the Foodbank. It is my intention to be there for every glean, as if it’s my summer job. Health, weather and family plans can get in the way but it is always my first priority.

Every glean is a gift. Sometimes the gift is huge, obvious, heavy and very exciting by its shear bulk and weight. I love to see the Foodbank truck filled to capacity.  Sometimes the glean is more like hidden treasure to be searched out, one by one from under enormous leaves and thigh high weeds or tantalizingly high above our heads waiting to be plucked. I love to hear the exclamations of awe and delight from gleaners all over the field. Every leaf, fruit or root is precious and beautiful. To harvest amidst acres of abundance is pure joy.

That feeling of joy and accomplishment extends, for me, to the stocking of the Putney Foodshelf. I love nothing more than to watch and encourage Foodshelf recipients take the produce that I am always delighted to tell them that I picked from a local farm that very morning. I know that the food they are receiving is the very best and healthiest food anyone can get. Gleaning is a win/win proposition for me.

Meatless Monday BroccoliWhy did you choose to volunteer with the Foodbank?

I think that gleaning chose me. In September of 2013, I had the excellent luck to meet one of the Foodbank’s most loyal gleaners, Claire Wilson. In our conversation, I asked what her plans were for the next day. Claire said she would be gleaning. When I asked what that was and her reply was “come with me and see for yourself.” That one time was all it took. I was hooked.

Since then, I have become an advocate for the gleaning program. I will invite total strangers in restaurants and on sidewalks to come try gleaning for the Foodbank. When they do, they are hooked too.

What have you learned through your experience here?

I’ve learned an incredible amount about the appalling statistics on hunger insecurity in VT. But I’ve also learned about ways I can assist in getting local, fresh foods to area Food Shelves. Through gleaning and processing, we can and do feed thousands of VT families with food that would otherwise go to waste in the farmer’s fields.

Through the VT Fresh Program’s grant to the Putney Foodshelf, I’ve learned how to promote fresh foods, share recipes and simple cooking techniques that encourage recipients to take advantage of all the glorious produce we offer them. I’ve learned that I can make a difference as an individual and as a team member.

Was there ever anyone in your life who inspired you to give back or volunteer? And how did that have an impact on your life?

My Dad was always an inspiration in giving back. My dad loved people and was always the first to step up to help anyone in need. He demonstrated  impeccable ethics, morals and generosity every day of his life. My dad was loved and respected in our community. I like to think that I continue my dad’s legacy of stepping up to help where help is needed in my community.

Describe a favorite memory of your time volunteering with us.

Every glean is fun and different but a simple favorite of mine was our first glean at Wild Carrot Farm in Brattleboro. Since it is a small farm, we left our cars at the house and walked the tree-shaded dirt road by pastures of beautiful horses and happy pigs until we found the fields of vegetables. As we harvested the jewel like vegetables we were entertained by the farmer harvesting hay from a horse-drawn mower. We felt as though we were in the middle of a painting.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am so grateful to everyone who makes the Vermont Foodbank possible. I’ve had an opportunity to really get to know some of the amazing people who work and volunteer for the VFB. Every single person has been a shining example of dedicated caring for those who can’t afford to feed themselves. I am honored to know and work with them.

It’s my hope that the gleaning program will continue to grow to the point where no produce is left to rot in the fields.  It is also my hope that the Vermont Foodbank will be there, with warehouses full of nutritious food, for as long as it is needed. I don’t know where we would be, as a state, without it.

Thank you, Lani, for your dedication and enthusiasm for gleaning and the work of the Vermont Foodbank!

The Foodbank can always utilize more volunteers, including gleaners. Learn more here.