Gleaning: Social Food for Thought

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squash waiting for harvest

squash waiting for harvest

As gardeners, the approach of fall is bittersweet.   We love the flavor of something freshly picked.  Tomatoes offer a warm, luxurious taste of summer and berries are sweet on the vine.  Yes, as gardeners, we hustle to gather while we can, but there is a certain relief as fall draws near.  The promise of a more relaxed pace and perhaps free evenings where we are no longer standing over a preserving kettle canning for the long winter months ahead.  After all, your pantry is full, right?

But gardeners, I have a question for you.  Have you thought about gleaning?  In case you are uncertain what gleaning is, it is going over fields or gardens beds following a harvest by hand to find any last usable produce.  Or perhaps better stated, it is gathering the leftover crops (some may still be on the plant or perhaps some has fallen to the ground).  The USDA expands this definition to, “Gleaning is simply the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, or any other sources to provide it to those in need.

While gleaning has ancient roots, it is still performed today.  Non-profit organizations around the country volunteer to glean fields with the ultimate goal of donating the food to organizations that support people in need.  After farmers have harvested, these organizations will come in to gather produce that doesn’t meet the quality demanded or produce that has been missed by commercial harvesters.  Please note, this is not gathering rotten food.  This food is still good and nourishing.

According to the USDA Economic Research Report in 2008, “more than 33 million Americans…live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods that are known as food deserts, where affordable, quality, and nutritious foods are inaccessible.”  As a result, gleaning efforts are important to provide much needed food to organizations that serve these communities.

Benefits of gleaning include the following:

  • prevents wasting of fresh produce
  • provides fresh produce to agencies that support low-income populations
  • minimizes the liability of those providing the food
  • prevents additional expense to farmers running equipment and labor through fields a second time
  • builds good relationships within the community

But what really helps makes gleaning in these modern times possible is the passage of the Bill Emmerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.  In 1996, President Clinton signed this act which is intended to encourage food donations to non-profits.  Specifically, this act protects donors from liability (both civil and criminal) in case recipients are harmed by consuming this food.

Organizations such as Village Harvest list gleaning programs through various parts of the country.   The Society of St. Andrew states, “Gleaning America’s Fields – Feeding America’s Hungry.”   They are are listed as the number one gleaning organization.

As a backyard gardener, you can still participate even if you are not located in an area served by the organizations listed above.  The Garden Writer’s Association and the GWA Foundation started a program in 1995 called, Plant a Row for the Hungry or PAR for short.  They encouraged people to not only, “plant an extra row, but donate their surplus to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.”  As you harvest during the season, you can take your produce to your local food bank or a designated drop-off location.  They will see to it that your generously donated produce is given to their clients that face food insecurity.

So gardeners, consider donating your surplus or end of season produce.  Your generosity can make the difference between people having a meal or going to bed hungry.   The act of gleaning is so much more than food for thought.

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2 responses »

    • Exactly! Some produce never makes it to the grocery store, restaurant or farmers market because of a simply cosmetic blemish. And what is left behind in fields and garden beds is truly a waste. So many people could be fed by the simple act of gleaning.

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