HVADC Partner: Stiles Najac
Sep 15, 2023
Leading Gleaning Activities throughout the Hudson Valley
Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County (CCEOC) Food Security Coordinator Stiles Najac has been a partner and inspiration to HVADC for many years. Her work over the past decade-plus, as the coordinator of the GleanMobile, has brought her closer in touch through HVADC’s FeedHV initiative. The GleanMobile collects excess fresh food from farms and brings it to organizations battling food insecurity in the Hudson Valley. Najac often collaborates with FeedHV, and has made a major impact on our region.
When Najac started with CCEOC 18 years ago, the organization gleaned a very respectable 70,000 pounds of farm fresh food a year. Today, however, the activity she coordinates saves around 300,000 pounds annually. The GleanMobile and the regional team of the Hudson Valley Gleaner’s Cooperative, recovers and harvests food from approximately 30 farms a year and services 65 Hudson Valley aid agencies, according to Najac. While FeedHV currently has a smaller operational scale, she says coordinating with the HVADC program has been helpful.
Najac is also a key member of the Hudson Valley System Food Coalition (HVFSC), a transdisciplinary & regional coalition with representatives from Agriculture, Government, Community, Processing, Distribution, Health, Education, Food Access, Food Business, Environment, Funding, and the Culinary Arts. Najac along with HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson, are facilitators of two HVFSC’s working groups and are currently working with the Coalition’s leadership team to focus on organizational structure moving into 2024.
“Working with FeedHV on food recovery has been an incredibly useful partnership,” Najac said. “We’ve shared resources and helped each other access more food. Sometimes, because of our scale, we have to walk away from smaller donations (like unsold goods at the end of farmers markets). FeedHV helps by sending volunteers out for those smaller but important donations.”
Najac says to run the gleaning operation successfully you have to be able to switch back and forth between two parts of your brain - the analytical, spreadsheet oriented planner, and an empathetic organizer of people. She also takes two different approaches towards how she works with the farms she gleans product from and the aid agencies she delivers to.
“With farmers you defiantly need to say what you mean and mean what you say, and be incredibly realistic about expectations,” said Najac, adding that a big part of gleaning is respectfully turning down food that is not appropriate or of high enough quality. “I’m not going to promise something I can’t deliver.”
When it comes to coordinating with the agencies, such as food banks and soup kitchens her approach is all about treating clients with dignity and respect. Najac is laser focused on how to get communities in need high quality, locally grown, nutritious food. Coordinating with FeedHV has only increased both programs’ ability to do so.
“I use FeedHV as a resource and it’s really been working,” Najac said.
Najac, who grew up in Pine Bush, said she continues to be impressed by the ingenuity and creativity of her partners and clientele. She highlighted the work of Second Chance Foods in Brewster. They receive product from the GleanMobile as well as doing their own gleaning. What they’re doing that makes a difference is that they are cooking the food they collect themselves and provide prepared meals to the community. Najac says the genius to their method is that if a bounty of squash comes in, it’s more likely to get eaten if it’s made into a recognizable dish like soup, rather than just sending the gourd to a home which has no history of preparing that type of vegetable.
“Stiles has decoded the formula to gleaning in the Hudson Valley and has been an invaluable partner to HVADC as we continue to expand FeedHV’s operations,” said HVADC Executive Director Todd Erling. “Being able to save farm fresh food that would otherwise be wasted and delivering it to the communities that need it is such a valuable undertaking. Stiles and CCEOC’s entire team continue to inspire and motivate us to create a stronger and healthier food system in the Hudson Valley.”
To learn more about the food rescue initiatives of FeedHV visit www.feedhv.org. To learn more about the CCEOC’s GleanMobile, visit https://cceorangecounty.org/ag-environment/gleaning.