Wednesday, November 4, 2009


My great-grandparents, Ora and Rolla Goodman, Orcutt, California

One of my favorite family stories is about how my great-grandmother, Ora Goodman - the inspiration for this blog - fed the hobos on Sundays. Sunday was pancake day at my great-grandmother's house. Every Sunday Gramma Ora made pancakes for the family, and always made extras for the local hobos. They'd come by the back door and she'd pass plates out to them. This isn't something I experienced but my mother did. She has childhood memories of this happening. The town this took place in, Orcutt, California, was a small town back in those days, and it still is. It was a poor town as well. The time period was the early to mid 1940s. The Great Depression was still a recent memory. There were still a lot of people living in poverty. My great-grandparents didn't have a lot but they did have a giving, generous spirit. When I first started reading about 'gleaning' - the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields - I thought of this story. I thought of what I knew about my great-grandparents, and how spreading around the little bit they did have was true to form. It was probably also a more giving time. My mother tells me that the hobos would mark the houses that gave them food. A mark on a fence post, a pile of rocks, who knows exactly how they let each other know that this was a house that gave handouts. I love how the message was spread. Any hobo passing through town could easily find a meal. My great-grandmother's house wasn't the only house in town that gave out free food. Apparently it was a common practice of the time -- and I love that. That generosity of spirit. The helping hand.

Gleaning has been around for a very long time. Historically, going back to biblical times, farmers purposefully left the edges of their fields unpicked, and unharvested for the less fortunate. My mother currently lives in the area where my great-grandparents lived. It's an agricultural area. A lot of produce is grown there. She tells me that after a field is picked any leftovers are taken to local food banks. A practice that has endured for centuries. Ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of welfare. Some ancient Jewish communities required farmers to not reap all the way to the edges of a field so as to leave some for the poor. (Source: Wikipedia) There has actually been an uptick in the act of gleaning recently. Our current economic downturn seemingly a turning point. The desire to live simpler, to reach out to others. An urban gleaning movement has taken hold. Urban gleaners harvest public fruit: like picking from a neighbor's over-burdened tree; an untended orange tree is picked free of ripe fruit; trees that bear fruit in public places, parks, libraries, government buildings are targets as well. A group in Los Angeles, Fallen Fruit, has made it their mission to collect as much public produce as possible and give it to the poor, hungry and needy. Fallen Fruit has a list of gleaning 'Dos and Don'ts':

  • Ask first, or leave a note with your contact information
  • Take only what you need
  • Be friendly
  • Share your food
  • Take a friend
  • Go by foot
Fallen Fruit creates maps to publicly available fruit. Some groups distribute unwanted food to shelters, and soup kitchens. Others collect food that isn't sold at farmer's markets. Volunteers go into farmers' fields to harvest produce that can't be sold. Home gardeners grow extra produce and give it to local food pantries and soup kitchens. One such group in Washington D.C. started a program called 'Grow A Row'. Participants plant an extra row or two in their gardens and donate the vegetables to a local food bank. Neighborhood Fruit helps find public fruit local to where you live. Their homepage states "10,000 registered trees and more get added everyday." Another site Veggie Trader is for those with excess produce in their gardens looking for other home gardeners to exchange with. Food Forward collects backyard produce to donate to local food banks, and has donated 30,000 pounds of citrus to food pantries this year. All of these groups, and there's a whole lot more out there, have taken the Victory Garden concept and created a modern social movement.

Maybe all of this giving, this generosity of spirit, is something positive that has come out of our nation's financial malaise. It reminds me of the story of Gramma Ora's pancakes and feeding the hobos. Her act of 'gleaning.' It makes me think of simpler times when the act of giving was just a part of life. No forethought, no planning. If someone had less than you, you helped. If they were hungry, you gave them food. It's nice to see that giving spirit returning. I thank my great-grandmother for setting the example for me. Those were some very lucky hobos.


My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

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  1. How perfect that you post this with Thanksgiving clearly on the horizon, Charles. What a wonderful topic, at a time when more people are in need of help than in the last 20 years - at minimum.

    This is about food, but I think it really goes beyond that. More to the point, it's about human decency. And we're losing that, generation by generation. Stories of widespread acts of brutality and cruelty seem to outweigh stories like this - relaying kindness and generosity.

    God bless your Grandmother Ora. When they say "Those were the days" they sure aren't kidding.

  2. Thanks so much, Phil - as always! I love that story about my great-grandmother and as you say those acts of kindness are few and far between these days. It's nice to know that there are people out there lending a hand.

  3. What a marvelous story of generous people. We could all use more spirits like that in the world!

  4. Thanks Phoo-D. And yes, we absolutely could! :-)

  5. Thanks so much for sharing the story of your great-grandparents! I love the picture of them!

  6. Thanks Natasha. I love that picture of the grand folks. They were dear people.

  7. What a lovely family. That is a great story. It is funny that so many of us do not think of the simple things that we can do to help others. I love the idea of gleaning the fields. When I was growing up (in a farming area) there were always potatoes and other veggies left in the field, to rot.

    I heard this story on NPR last year about this time and posted about it. I love the generosity of such great people. I can see how proud you are. Kudos to your Gramma.

  8. Charles! Love your blog. What a wonderful and inspring story about generosity of spirit. Great photo of your grandparents too. Thanks for visiting our mac and cheese blog. So nice to hear from you. I'll make sure to put you on the list for the mac fest next year.

  9. Thanks Kristen! That's a great, heart warming NPR story you posted. Perfect time of year for this type of thing as well.

    So good to hear from you, Hilary. Glad you like the blog - it's been a lot of fun. I'd love to be a part of the mac fest next year!

  10. Hi Charles
    This is Pierre from Paris in France
    I understand you love la cuisine française !
    so if you like it come and visit my blog youare very welcome
    à tre bientôt

  11. Merci Pierre! J'aime bien la cuisine francaise et votre blog aussi. Bon appetit!