The Interview with Laurie (Duck) Caldwell

TPC liaisons (and Board members) Cathy Konicki and Sue Meehan interviewed Laurie (Duck) Caldwell, the Executive Director of the Boston Area Gleaners (BAG).

“Gleaning” is the act of collecting surplus crops from farmers’ fields, a practice that dates back to ancient times when landowners invited peasants onto their fields to glean after the main harvest was over. BAG has been practicing gleaning since 2004, with the help of groups of volunteers. These volunteers make trips to local farms where they harvest high-quality fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. The organization then distributes this nutritious produce to food banks, food pantries, and other agencies serving families facing food insecurity. BAG is seeking to build a sustainable supply chain of healthy produce from local farms to people in need.


Duck’s history with BAG.

Duck came to BAG in 2009 as a volunteer and became hooked on gleaning. Back then, there were no paid staff members and BAG operated out of founder Oakes Plimpton’s old mini-van and Duck’s pick-up truck. In 2010, Mr. Plimpton hired Duck as BAG’s first paid employee. Duck brought a variety of skills to BAG, having worked with underemployed women among whom food insecurity was prevalent, to working on a farm in New Hampshire. Duck reflected that the loss of her consulting job in the market crash of 2008 gave her a great opportunity to become involved with BAG.


How has BAG grown over the years?

BAG has grown impressively over the 10 years since Duck has been involved. She used BAG as her focal point when she pursued her “green” MBA that focused on sustainability. She knew that a strong business model would enable BAG to be even more successful in helping to minimize food insecurity, and that it would also help to provide greater social value.

In 2004, BAG gleaned 8,240 pounds of produce with just a handful of volunteers and a rickety mini-van. For its 2019 fiscal year, BAG will have harvested 820,000 pounds of produce with a paid staff, hundreds of volunteers, and four trucks! Duck believes that the 820,000 pounds of produce is just a small portion of the surplus that is available to be gleaned from local farms.

In 2013, given her strong focus on operations, Duck hired Dylan Frazier who is an expert on food safety protocol. Dylan put in place food security systems that enabled BAG to become a leader in developing the supply chain between farmers and foodbanks. BAG currently works with 70 farms in eastern Massachusetts.

Currently, BAG provides produce to five food banks including the Greater Boston Area Food Bank, which is the largest recipient of BAG’s produce. It also works with hunger relief agencies such as Food for Free and local food pantries.


How is TPC’s funding being used?

TPC’s grant is being used for building out the organization’s development capabilities. BAG has become expert at food distribution and now needs to focus on development.  The team would like to build a more diversified and sustainable revenue stream that lowers revenue from grants while significantly increasing revenue from individual donations and earned revenue. TPC’s grant allowed BAG the ability to hire its first development director, who has brought focus to the area of building relationships to increase individual donations as well as building better relationships with its many volunteers.


How can TPC do more to help?

Duck would like to receive input from members who have experience in donor management systems and development administration. And, BAG is always looking for volunteers to go on gleaning trips.


What’s your favorite pick from the cornucopia?

We closed with asking Duck what her favorite produce is to glean. She had a hard time coming up with an answer because she loves the beauty of fruit orchards and picking the fruit off the trees as well as the sight of a simple head of lettuce. Plus, she admitted that it’s just plain fun to pull carrots out of the ground.

Duck sincerely appreciates all the help BAG has received from TPC, especially being able to use our grant for development purposes. Her final words to us were, “Please extend my thanks to everyone at TPC!”