On October 18, 2014, approximately 50 members of the Sathya Sai Baba Centers of South Bethesda, Fairfax and Loudoun journeyed to Miller Farms to help harvest leftover vegetables. The vegetables that we picked were kale and collard greens, which are very nutritious. It was a large farm, with about a hundred rows of these vegetables. The day was very warm and sticky. There were bugs flying about as we bent down, row after row, to pick the vegetables, and put them into large bags. These vegetables would be donated to food banks which feed the homeless in Washington D.C.  Some of these vegetables would later be ground up and made into hot soups. Amongst the volunteers were Group 3 Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students from the South Bethesda Sai Center. This is the story of their “gleaning” service. 

“Gleaning” is going over a field or area that has just been harvested, and gathering by hand any usable parts of the crop that remain. The owner of the farm allows a group of volunteers to come periodically to glean what is left after that year’s harvest. 

The amount of food that grows back after a harvest is quite large and instead of letting it go to waste, many groups gather volunteers to come and pick the leftover vegetables to give to the homeless. One such group is from a nearby church, whose pastor enlightened us about the great benefits of this type of service. After the farmer is done harvesting his vegetables for the year, the kale and collard greens grow back about five to ten times until the winter. Gleaning these kale and collard greens from just one farm provides enough to feed many people. But can you just imagine how many hungry mouths would be fed if this was done at all farms? Sadly, much food goes un-harvested and wasted in the world, even while many people go hungry, not having anything to eat. If only we can find ways to transport the overgrowth of food to the unchecked population of hungry people!

The pastor, a regular gleaner, told us that the history of gleaning goes all the way back to the Bible. The Old Testament of the Bible states, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9) In the Bible, there is a book called “The Book of Ruth”, about a good and virtuous young woman named Ruth who was very loyal to her mother-in-law. Ruth and her mother-in-law, who were very poor at that time, went to Bethlehem because Ruth’s husband had died. The mother-in-law, Naomi, told Ruth to go out into the city to find a farmer that would be kind enough to lend them some food. Ruth, obedient as she was, went straight into the city and came across a farmer by the name of Boaz, who agreed to give her some of his produce. She went behind his servants, who were harvesting his produce, and collected whatever the servants did not harvest. This was the first historical record of this sort of gleaning, where a farmer gives part of his produce to the poor.

We have been carrying out the gleaning service for a few years now, each year after the harvest season. We fill well over 200 bags, and by the end of the day, many of us are often hot, tired, and very hungry. What we feel, however, is negligible compared to what we know the starving, cold, and malnourished homeless people face on a daily basis. We are glad to know that homeless would benefit from these vegetables. Knowing that the gleaning service would help many people get healthy nutritious fresh produce, who otherwise may go hungry, gives us a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

Sathya Sai Baba has said that there are two sides to the coin of devotion: prayer and service. He said that “Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.” Service is a very important aspect of devotion; it is not enough to just pray without doing service to others. During and after the gleaning service, all of us feel a wonderful sense of gratitude and happiness wash over us, for the opportunity to serve. It gives us an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to realize that we are a part of Sai Baba’s mission of spreading love through service. What better grace could we receive? Through the Lord’s example of service, we have also learned to serve with humility. Sai Baba never thought any act of service was below His dignity. He always served everyone with love and affection. Sai Baba taught us that every act of service is service to God himself. “Service to man, is service to God.” Taking part in the gleaning service has made us feel like we have given something beyond just food to the people who are less fortunate than us. It is a great feeling of accomplishment, and it has inspired us to do more service. Having blessed with all the necessities of life and much more, it is our duty to give back to the community.

Sai Keerthana Cherukuri

Rekha Ramnat

Samyukta Rao

Mira Figliozzi