Editor’s Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of articles chronicling the experience of volunteering for community service organizations in Talbot County.
“You must be Oliver”, said the woman with a friendly Eastern Shore accent and a rich, farmer’s voice. “Hmmm,” I thought, “This is an auspicious start. She already knows my name.” Well, not really, because I quickly learned that it had nothing to do with reputation and everything to do with tardiness. You see I was the only volunteer who had gotten lost finding the farm, which made me late… and, the only one not accounted for. And, that was my first exposure to the common sense of Amy Cawley.
Amy Cawley is the Farm-to-Food Bank Coordinator for the Maryland Food Bank. Through tireless effort, she has created a network of farms across the state that provides hungry Marylanders with local produce which might otherwise be wasted. Today, Amy was herding nine volunteers to “Glean” corn from a field in Dorchester County. The farmer, Paul Jackson, had corn that he couldn’t sell and rather than plow it under he contacted Amy to see if she could salvage it. Gleaning is an ancient term that literally means to gather grain left by reapers. However, in our case, it meant that we would pick the delicious sweet white corn directly from the stalks.
Amy was all business and got me right to work. She assigned me a row (my, but it did seem long!) and showed me how to properly pick corn by pulling the ear down and then twisting it right off the stalk. Her practiced hands made it look easy; a lot easier than when I tried it. Well, after a while I got the hang of it and set on down my row.
Volunteering for a good cause always makes me feel good, and the shared sense of fellowship with the other volunteers is rewarding, but another benefit is the opportunity to make new friends. It never fails to happen and today was no exception. I found myself picking a row of corn next to Jane, a delightful woman who owns a Christmas tree farm with her husband on Mathewstown Road on the way to Denton. We struck up a conversation about nothing in particular and kept at it for a good hour, all the way until the end of our row; and then all the way through the next one! And, while we were “all ears,” we picked over 500 ears (of corn). I made a new friend, the conversation made the job go faster, and now I know where I am buying this year’s Christmas tree.
At one point I had the opportunity to pick corn on a row next to Amy, and it was then that I learned her impressive story. The moment you experience her voice you can tell that Amy Cawley is a farmer. She is tied to the land, and she knows the land. She views the land as a resource and nature’s excess as a gift to feed those who are less fortunate. In the five years since Amy took over as coordinator, she has grown the Farm-to-Food Bank program to the point where it has procured and distributed over 5 million pounds of farm fresh produce! Without her efforts, the crops would have gone to waste… and, with her efforts, countless families have been helped.
After about two hours Amy summoned our merry band of volunteers and told us our job was done. We were all pleasantly tired, but also pleasantly pleased with our efforts. In two hours our nine volunteers, plus Amy, picked 2,262 pounds of corn, which comes out to 2,753 ears. This will yield 1,885 meals or 471 meals for a family of 4.
So, I did some good, enjoyed the fellowship of a shared experience, made a new friend, and met the remarkable Amy Cawley… a person who truly makes a difference. It was not a bad day.
The Farm-to-Food Bank effort is always looking for volunteers. If you want to throw your hat in the ring, contact Amy Cawley at email@example.com
Over his career, Oliver Brown has worked for Time Inc. and one of the world’s largest ad agencies, Young & Rubicam. He was a Partner at the trailblazing media giant, Whittle Communications, and then the COO of Commercial Credit Counseling Services. He later became the founder and publisher of YOUR HOME magazine. Brown relocated to the Eastern Shore nine years ago to care for his elderly parents and has never really left. He proudly calls Talbot County his home.