North Fork Profiles

Southold students help feed the poor by gleaning the fields


By the time winter rolls in, there’s some produce farmers just don’t get around to picking and vegetables are typically left on the fields to rot and be used as mulch.

But over at Wesnofske Farm on a chilly Tuesday afternoon, Southold High School teachers James Stahl and Jason Wesnofske, the son of the Peconic farm’s owner, met their students there to pick Brussels sprouts and other produce in order to donate the would-be wasted vegetables to local charities.

The process, known as “gleaning,” is referred to in the Old Testament as having farmers leave produce on their vines along the edge of their fields for the poor.

This is the second time Southold National Honor Society students have gleaned a field as part of their community service requirement.

Last year, their adviser, Mr. Stahl, had reached out to Mr. Wesnofske to see if his family would be willing to donate to the cause. They described the arrangement as a win-win situation.

“This way of leaving some for the poor has been going on since biblical times,” Mr. Stahl explained. “Gleaning is a great way for our students to help out families in need, especially during the holidays.”

Emma Alvarez, a junior, said she decided to participate in the community service project after her friends who completed it last year described it as a great experience.

“If we didn’t do this, then all of this would go to waste,” Emma said as she picked Brussels sprouts. “It makes you feel good to help make a difference.”

Junior Evelyn Cummings, who picked vegetables for the first time Tuesday, said she enjoyed the opportunity to learn about agriculture.

“It’s a really cool way to learn outside the classroom,” she added.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has promoted gleaning in recent years and has helped coordinate different groups — including community organizations, gardeners, farmers and agencies that serve the hungry — to establish local food systems throughout the country, especially charity groups that have experienced severe cutbacks.

Meg Pickerell, also a junior, said she enjoyed participating in the volunteer effort and believes gleaning is a good opportunity to not only help those less fortunate, but to also learn about the local farming community.

“It’s important to know where your food comes from,” she said. “This makes you appreciate it even more.”

All the vegetables will be dropped off at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue, and St. Agnes R.C. Church and Community Action of Southold Town, both in Greenport.

Mr. Wesnofske’s father, Gene, who runs the farm, said he also added bags of red potatoes to the donation pile and said he’s grateful for the students’ help.

“For this many to come out on a cold day like this is great,” he said. “Everyone has a good time, and it’s all for a good cause.”

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Top: Southold High School National Honors Society member Evelyn Cummings ‘gleaning’ a field Tuesday at Wesnofske Farm in Peconic. She and a group of students picked vegetables that would normally go to waste and donated the produce to charity groups. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Farmer Gene Wesnofske (left) collaborated with his son, Jason (right), and James Stahl, both Southold High School teachers, on the community service project.
Farmer Gene Wesnofske (left) collaborated with his son, Jason (right), and James Stahl, both Southold High School teachers, on the community service project.