- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

Learning and service go hand in hand, as many home-schooling families have found. One interesting way to teach your children about science and nature, as well as social studies, is to become involved in a farm-based food project.

We recently learned about the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network, MAGNET. This is a nonprofit organization that fights hunger by gleaning from the fields where farmers have extra crops, then distributing the produce to a wide network of communities and organizations to feed the hungry.

We initially were recipients of the bounty produced through this system. As part of our community work, we feed many young people every day. The high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is a huge drain on our cooking budget. So, when one family began sharing with us some of the produce it received, that really helped. They recommended that we go to one of the distribution points and collect some of the produce directly.

We then volunteered in the warehouse, sorting and boxing the produce for distribution to various food banks. We worked with a diverse group of seniors, staff and youth volunteers. There, we heard about the gleaning work in which volunteers go to fields to cut kale or pick strawberries to supply the warehouse. Collected food is then distributed through a wide network of food banks, churches, shelters and other helping organizations.

Many home-schoolers participate in the MAGNET program. One mother wrote a letter to the program’s newsletter about the experience of her three children: “It seems that gleaning covers science, history, health, human relations and the Bible, so I have therefore decided to incorporate it into my home-school curriculum.”

She reported breakthroughs for her children in learning to deal with new situations, especially for a son who has special needs. By facing the very things that he struggles with, and being able to see that his work will help those in need, he has gained confidence and life skills.

Our own family found several learning opportunities just in how to prepare and preserve the vegetables we received. Since we didn”t want the vegetables to go to waste, we chopped up some of the salad-type items and stored them in chilled water, taking less refrigerator space. We cooked up others into sauces and soups that could be kept and used later. We steamed some to use later in the week for various dishes. Others, we put on the grill, right away. Some root vegetables were stored in the coolness of the basement for future meals.

Our children shared the bounty with families they know who could use the fresh produce. One family, who also home-schools, then gave us a loaf of freshly baked bread. The entire process is adding to our appreciation of wholesome food, and thoughtful human activity.

In addition to learning about farming and food distribution and preparation, the MAGNET program provides opportunities to gain wisdom from the other volunteers. People share their life experiences, especially the retirees and other senior volunteers.

“I have personally established deep friendships with people I would have been too intimidated to consider,” wrote another volunteer. “Every barrier you can think of is dissolved — ethnic, social, denominational — you name it. … The experiences are limitless.”

If your family would like to glean some food — and some wisdom — this summer, you can check the Web site (www.midatlanticgleaningnetwork.org) or call the gleaning schedule and recorded announcements lines at 703/370-0155 in Virginia and 410/426-1597 in Maryland. You”ll find it rewarding, both in what you learn and what you give.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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