Franklin County vegetables feed hungry in eastern Mass.
GREENFIELD — In 1994, David Carlson lost his job. “I was out of work for a while and when I finally found another job and got my first paycheck, I headed for my favorite restaurant,” said Carlson, who was living in Brighton at the time. “I was hungry — I hadn’t eaten very well in the time I was out of work. It was tough.” Carlson said as he approached the restaurant, a “black robe stepped out from the church next door.” “He offered me a free meal,” said Carlson. “I was embarrassed, but I took it.”
That was 18 years ago at the Church of Holy Resurrection.
“I’d go back now and then for a meal and the one thing I noticed was that they always served horrible salad,” said Carlson.
It would take several years, but Carlson would decide to change that with help from some farmers in Franklin County.
Carlson volunteered at the church the following year and first became salad server and eventually, head server. He moved to Greenfield four years ago, when he got a job in the area.
“I’m an avid, large-scale gardener, so I would go back out to the eastern part of the state each week with vegetables I grew for the church’s salad,” said Carlson.
He got a job working for a local farmer, Harvest Farm in Whately, and started buying produce from the farm so he could bring it to the soup kitchen at the church.
“I worked out a deal to pay wholesale prices,” he said. “Eventually, he’d give me some of it for free, because it wasn’t going to be used.” A year later, Carlson contacted other area farmers, who were also willing to sell to him at wholesale prices and today eight local farmers help Carlson out.
The first year, Carlson delivered a ¼-ton of produce. The second, he delivered 1¼ tons. The third year, he delivered 1½ tons.
This year, Carlson proudly announced that he delivered 2 tons of produce to the church with the help of his partner, Maria Roberts, who stays at his Brighton home most of the week and helps out in shelters there.
“We delivered green beans, tomatoes, salad greens, carrots, onions, potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, everything we could get our hands on,” said Carlson.
“People are hungry and too many stay that way,” he said. “I had to do something, just like that man in the robe did for me so many years ago.” Carlson said he hasn’t missed his weekly trip to Brighton with vegetables in 18 years.
“I go back there on Sunday morning and come back to Greenfield on Monday morning,” he said. He and Roberts deliver to the church and on Monday, after Carlson has left for Greenfield, Roberts takes whatever is left over and brings it to a couple of other churches and food pantries.
“The farmers out here are very generous, but they are entrepreneurs first — they have to make money to survive,” said Carlson. “That’s why I pay them and don’t ask for handouts.” But, some do give a little of the produce for free, he said.
“I want to do this until I can’t any longer,” said Carlson, 65.
“There are so many people out there who need our help,” he said. “We have to help our neighbors. It’s only right.” Carlson said the farmers don’t want to be named for different reasons. “All I can say is I’ve been told the church is now serving the best salad in Boston,” said Carlson. “That’s all because of the generosity of farmers from way across the state.” “It feels really good when you help someone else,” said Roberts. “When you see the reaction of someone who was hungry and now they are eating partly because of what you did, it just feels really good. They are so appreciative.” Carlson said he doesn’t have much money, but wants to build a legacy with the little money he does have.
“I want my money to have had great value,” he said. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships over the years because of this.”