Jeralyn Beach: The Queen of the Glean

Jeralyn BeachIf it were possible to design a perfect person to fulfill the role of coordinating produce and agriculture programs for the Food Bank, one could not do better than Jeralyn Beach. Beach is eminently qualified for the role: she holds a degree in hospitality and food service management from Ball State University in her home state of Indiana; she gained experience in managing complex food systems in her job as a school food services supervisor for New York City public schools; she has a graduate degree from Chatham University’s Food Studies program; and she is a graduate of culinary school. Those impeccable credentials are enhanced by her passion for the work that she does and her admiration for those she works with in the fields – literally – and at the Food Bank offices.

As Produce Specialist, Beach is responsible for, among other things, developing and nurturing relationships with the farmers who donate their surplus fresh fruits and vegetables to the Food Bank. It is an aspect of her job that she cherishes. “The best part of my job is working with the farmers. They are so passionate and giving. It’s a privilege to work with them. Few people interact directly with farmers and realize how hard they work and how much they need to know. Farming is extremely complex; you have to be an expert in weather, insects, soil, plants, business and marketing.”

The admiration is mutual. Lyle Johnston, of the Apple Castle farm in Lawrence County, one of a dozen farms where Food Bank volunteers go from June through November to glean the crops for distribution to food pantries, says that Jeralyn makes working with the Food Bank a pleasure. “Because of Jeralyn, the gleanings go well and are a win-win. She’s organized and prepared; she teaches the volunteers and gets the job done. I just show her which fields to do.”

“Jeralyn has been a perfect fit for her role at the Food Bank,” said CEO Lisa Scales. “Providing fresh, local produce is becoming more and more critical for our agencies and the people they serve, and Jeralyn approaches her work with knowledge, commitment and passion. Most importantly, she has a knack for working effectively with our volunteers and local farmers, both important partners for the Food Bank in its mission to provide nutritious food to people who are hungry throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.” 

Beach has been working at the Food Bank for 2 ½ years and loves working on the gleanings, Community Harvest and Harvest for the Hungry programs. “Everyone involved in the Food Bank is great. We’re all trying to do so much with limited resources. It’s a constant effort at balancing. The work is never ending, but we do an amazing job together.” She finds inspiration in the farmers, who encourage her, and in her co-workers, especially the longtime staffers who have endured through growing pains. “They have so much knowledge. Our operations are complex, requiring a lot of logistics and coordination, and they know the systems well.” She credits the volunteers for their dedication: “A volunteer can make a tough day better. They may know just one little piece of the big picture here, but their enthusiasm for that little piece always helps me.”

There are frustrations, naturally. “People fail to comprehend what we do here; they mistake us for a food pantry,” she says. “It blows their minds when they find out the reality. The Food Bank is a complex, sophisticated web of agencies and systems. When people learn about the prevalence of hunger, it shocks them. It’s good that we are getting the message out there that poverty and hunger are everywhere. When we say hunger, we really mean poverty.”

In her time off, Beach can be found – where else? – in her garden. “I work with produce, and I play with produce! We have a rescue dog and two cats. I like to go camping with my husband Robert, an architect, at Ohiopyle, and I like to read; one book I loved was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” She also loves to cook and put her culinary school skills to good use. “I’m a simple cook who uses whatever is on hand. My best thing is pie! I love to make Indiana’s state pie, sugar cream pie, delicious and easy.”


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