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Southold students glean produce for CAST

Southold High School English teacher James Stahl’s idea for students to give back to the community came from the radio.

“I was listening to the radio and they were talking about gleaning, some gleaning projects, and I said, you know, it would work perfectly actually,” Mr. Stahl said.

He asked colleague and friend Jason Wesnofske, who teaches technology at the high school, about bringing students to glean, or gather produce left over after a harvest, at his family’s farm and the partnership has since become an annual tradition.

For eight years now, about 20 students from the National Honor Society at Southold High School brave the cold and glean produce at Wesnofske Farms in Peconic, owned and operated by Mr. Wesnofske’s father, Gene. Afterward, they donate the vegetables they’ve collected to the food pantry operated by the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation in Southold. 

“We’re very blessed as farmers to be able to give this to our community, because the community supports us all season long,” Mr. Wesnofske said. “And to be able to have something left at the end to give them is definitely an amazing feeling.”

This year’s gleaning took place Dec. 3 and yielded 12 crates full of Brussels sprouts, lettuce and broccoli, as well as two large bags of potatoes. The event helps the students meet their community service requirements.

Mr. Stahl and Mr. Wesnofske met the students after school at the farm’s parking lot and they rode to the fields across the North Road on the back of Gene Wesnofske’s tractor.

That tractor ride was just the beginning of the hands-on experience the students get participating in the event.

“I’ve lived out here all my life and you always drive past farms, and you go ‘oh so beautiful’ but you really don’t know any of the work that goes into it,” said Lane Dominy, a Southold senior. “It’s just a really humbling experience.” 

The gleaning also helps the farm by reducing waste, according to Gene Wesnofske.

“I’m glad we are gleaning; it helps the people who really need the food,” he said. “I mean, otherwise it would go to waste out in the field; we’d be discing it up next spring and plowing it up and planting another crop.”

Karina Hayes, manager of the CAST food pantry, said the students’ donation is “extremely important.” It helps support the pantry’s goal of providing its clients with healthy, nutritious food options.

“We’d like to not limit our produce selections for families — we do have some vegetarian families and things like that,” she said. “And [produce] is so much of your plate nutritionally speaking, that having an abundance of produce is a big deal to us.”

Ms. Hayes also emphasized that this isn’t the only way National Honor Society students give back to their community. She says they participate often in the new volunteer program CAST started with local school systems, Ms. Hayes said.

The students’ tasks, level of participation and hours are tracked and help them obtain personalized references that are useful for college scholarship applications and employment opportunities, among other things.

“It’s not just this one opportunity for the National Honor Society to come in for CAST and give us something of worth. They’re doing it on a regular basis,” Ms. Hayes said. “So we would definitely like to thank them for all of the support that they give us.”

Mr. Stahl said he looks forward to the event every year.

“I always love doing it, knowing that the kids are being of service, that they are actually learning something, getting something out of it, and it’s going towards a good cause,” he said.