On Monday afternoon, food sourcing specialist Katie Auwers pulled back the husk from an ear of corn and pricked one of the glossy kernels with her thumbnail, bringing a spurt of juice.
“Yep, it’s milking,” she confirmed. The corn was ready.
In a few minutes, the volunteers began to arrive at Eastmanville Farm: Some were veteran gleaners, others friends of staff, but most of the volunteers that afternoon were employees of Charlie Ham, an organic farmer from Allendale and a long-time donor to the Food Bank. His expertise in sweet corn has been key for the Food Bank Farm in its pilot year.
Charlie and his volunteers set to work. With a wheelbarrow pusher between them, the pickers marched down the rows ripping the ripe ears from the stalks.
“Varo and I can fill up a wheelbarrow in about three minutes,” Charlie said of one employee.
That turned out to be a conservative estimate. Once they settled into their rhythm, the pickers kept CEO Ken Estelle sweating to keep up as he loaded tote after tote into the Food Bank’s semi-truck.
“This is great because you’re teaching us how to do it,” Katie said to Charlie.
After two hours the group of nine volunteers had loaded more than 5,800 pounds of fresh corn into the truck, the equivalent of 4,500 meals.
“They made all of the difference,” Katie said of Charlie’s crew. “I mean without their help we wouldn’t have gotten nearly that amount.”
While most of the workers headed back to Ham Family Farm to pick beans, volunteer Lindsey Schroedter was off to Grand Valley State University, where she is a senior studying pre-med. On top of her 12-hour credit load plus six hours of research and her duties as vice president of an osteopathic medicine club, Lindsey works 20 hours a week at the farm.
Lindsey said she’s drawn to medicine for the same reason she volunteers: “Someone’s coming to me in a time of need, and I can offer something. … It’s about helping someone.”
Further proof — as if any were needed — that Feeding America West Michigan has the best volunteers in the world.
The Food Bank plans to schedule three more harvest dates this month. No dates have been confirmed yet; because the field lacks irrigation the level of ripeness varies, exact predictions are difficult to make. If you would like to be notified of possible dates, contact Katie Auwers at 616-432-6961 or firstname.lastname@example.org.