Nov 26th, 2008

The Age-old Practice of Gleaning is Finally Finding the Limelight

I’ve got to credit the ladies over at GardenRant for bringing this to my attention.  This week the New York Times wrote a short (but amazing) story about how a farm in Colorado opened up their fields for gleaning, a practice of harvesting the leftovers after the workers or machines have harvested what they could from the field.  Apparently, the owners of the farm had heard of people stealing food from area churches and felt that in this economy there would be some interest.  The result? 40,000 people came to take away the leftovers potatoes, leeks and carrots from the harvest!

The fields of the couple, Joe and Chris Miller, were picked so clean Saturday that a second day of harvesting was canceled Sunday, The Denver Post reported.

“Overwhelmed is putting it mildly,” Ms. Miller said. “People obviously need food.”…..

“Everybody is so depressed about the economy,” said Sandra Justice of Greeley, Colo., who works at a technology company. “This was a pure party. Everybody having a great time getting something for free.”

Ms. Justice and her mother and son picked about 10 bags of vegetables.

Ms. Miller said she and her husband opened the farm for the public harvest for the first time this year after hearing reports of food being stolen from churches. It was meant as a thank-you for customers.

So, perhaps this is a sign of the state of America’s economy, and at this time of Thanksgiving it is important to remember those who are hungry or less fortunate. Gleaning dates back to at least biblical times when farmers were encouraged to leave some produce in the fields for the widowed and the poor.  Is the renewed interest in gleaning a sign that America is ready to become less wasteful? Maybe.

Locally, I’ve heard of volunteers gleaning fields to send that food to foodbanks, but in Richmond, perhaps the movement to glean fields is just beginning.   Society of St. Andrew, is located in Southwest Virginia, but organizes volunteers in Richmond, and the entire region for volunteers to glean fields and donate that produce to food banks.  To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to teach children (and adults) about gardening, food systems, helping those in need, and not being wasteful.  And according to Society of St. Andrew’s website, almost anyone can volunteer to glean.

A recent article in the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star on gleaning also points out the huge added benefit of food banks having access to more fresh fruits and vegetables — which in turn helps fight obesity among the poor.  In fact, it’s been suggested that lack of fresh vegetables explains the link between poverty and obesity.

The fresh produce helps keep low-income people healthy, said Oya Oliver, director of the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.  Fresh food costs more–apples, pears, tomatoes and green beans sell for about $1.50 per pound at the grocery store. Canned ravioli costs 79 cents per pound and a box of macaroni and cheese, 75 cents. The average food-stamp allotment in Virginia is $220 per month, and the cheaper foods last longer on that budget. With rising fuel costs, many who don’t qualify for food stamps still struggle to buy groceries, Oliver said.


The outreach efforts help ensure those cherry tomatoes will make it to the tables of the area’s poor. That’s the outcome envisioned by the dozen or so volunteer gleaners who picked those tomatoes last week at Perkins’ farm.

The gleaners, ages 6 to 81, their fingers stained yellow-green from the plucking, filled plastic buckets with the orange cherry tomatoes. A truck from the Central Virginia Food Bank loaded up the buckets and took them to Richmond.

Ladysmith resident Jeanne Campbell brought two of her children and a friend’s kids, too. They had all brought items to a church food pantry before, but gleaning showed them how everyone from the farmer, to the volunteer tomato pickers, to the food bank workers help feed the poor.

“They get a feel for how it can start here and go all the way up,” Campbell said.

Those buckets will be part of the 30 million pounds of food the Society of St. Andrew will save nationwide this year, Breitinger said. Gleaning “is just good common sense,” she said. The food that’s wasted every year could more than feed the 37 million Americans who go hungry.

“There is enough food wasted to feed every one of those people every day,” Breitinger said. “It’s a sin to let it rot in the field when there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Here at Lewis Ginter, we have a similar program to teach children some of the same lessons.  The children plant vegetables in the children’s garden, learning all sorts of things in the process.  They learn how a plant grows, how humans and plants are interdependent and where our food comes from.   The Children’s Garden also hosts, Drop in and Dig, on Wednesday afternoons during harvest time, where families can harvest the vegetables together.  Throughout the growing season, the freshly picked vegetables are donated to the Central Virginia Foodbank.  This year the Lewis Ginter’s Children’s Garden donated 516 lbs. of food, to help feed the hungry.  I’m pretty sure those families pick the farm beds clean — if they didn’t, then certainly we too would consider gleaning.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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