Volunteering at Claggett Farm: It's a Good, Sustainable, Thing

Tracey Gold Bennett | 8/9/2011, 12:21 a.m.
Love organic produce from places like Whole Foods but wishing you could save more money?...
A volunteer pulls weeds from a strawberry patch at Clagget Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. / Victor Holt

Love organic produce from places like Whole Foods but wishing you could save more money? There's good news. You can volunteer on a local farm for free vegetables.

If spending a Saturday harvesting eggplant and squash on a farm while helping an area food bank sounds like fun -- it is. But don't be fooled, volunteering as a "picker" at Claggett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. in Prince George's county is not for the faint-hearted. It is very hard work... It's the wipe your sweaty brow all day, get your Hurachis full of dirt kind of hard work. The bonus, aside from the great feeling you get working for a good cause, is that you get your very own "share" -- that's eight pounds of free vegetables.

Negin Janati, a communications officer for Global Health at the United Nations treks out to the farm from the city nearly every weekend to volunteer.

"My boyfriend Alex and I are from Connecticut and we grew up around farms. Being in D.C. now, it was difficult to leave farming because we love it. I bring him to Claggett Farm to get his fun farm time as many weekends as we can... it's a good workout being in the fresh air, and we meet new people when we come every week," said Janati.

Claggett Farm, part of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The farm raises produce to support people of varying socio-economic levels. Nearly half of the farm's produce is distributed free or at a cut-rate to disadvantaged populations in Washington, D.C. Claggett Farm partners with the Capital Area Food Bank to assist communities that are food insecure.

Tom Zolper, Maryland Communication Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was also participating, not in an official capacity but laboring just like the others.

"It is important to be here [picking vegetables] because we couldn't afford to do what we do without volunteers. We funnel food through the food bank and it goes to food pantries, and homeless folks who can't get fresh produce.

Zolper says 25 thousand pounds of fresh, free produce goes to food insecure populations every year. In fact, it is the 20th anniversary of the volunteer program. Many people in the area also participate in the Community Supply Agriculture program and pay a fee to get a share of the farm's produce or grass-fed beef.

"The fees help with the free distribution of vegetables but anyone can contribute," said Zolper.

Clagett Farm uses farming methods that are economically and environmentally sustainable. While the farm is not certified organic it does follow organic standards to protect the watershed and its consumers.

Craig Lockhart volunteers frequently at Claggett Farm and appreciates the farm's organic practices.

"One of the nice things about being out her in the field is that you don't get skin rashes from the pesticides that might be in other fields. It's a good workout for a good cause and its sustainable agriculture," Lockhart said. "I'm kind of a computer Dilbert and being here [clearing weeds from a strawberry patch] gives me a chance to get away from my cubicle at the Defense department."