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A recent article by Julia Hebaitner on Food Gleaning: Gleaning Aint Stealing

‘And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger.’ – Leviticus xxiii, 22.

Despite considerable crop wastage, especially in the fruit industry, Australia has few, if any, food recovery and gleaning programs. In other parts of the world, notably Europe and US, food recovery and gleaning are common practices which date back thousands of years. In those times nothing was wasted. Today, it is only the clear thinking who include food recovery and gleaning as part of the agricultural system.

Food recovery is the collection of wholesome food for distribution to the poor and hungry. It need not be from the fields, but could be surplus from packing, or distribution or retail outlets. In some instances food recovery applies to the produce that is riper than is appropriate for transport to retail outlets.

Gleaning refers to the collection of crops either from farmers’ fields that have already been mechanically harvested or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest, due to low market prices.

If there are no local food recovery or gleaning programs in your area it may be possible to set up a community gleaning program with local farmers. There is usually not a lot of gain for farmers to be involved in these programs, other than good will and the inherent rewards for providing a service to economically disadvantaged groups.

Before you approach a farmer to discuss gleaning, do some homework on the potential issues for both the farmer and the community group. The issues include:

  • Legal liability – who will bear the responsibility if someone is injured on the farm?
  • Who will supply the containers for the gleaned produce?
  • How many people will be on the farm?
  • Will the gleaners need restroom facilities?
  • Will vehicles be driven on farm land – if so, are there guidelines or rules the farmer wants to apply?
  • Will children be accompanying gleaners?
  • Does the farmer have any concerns or rules s/he wants clarified?

Things to consider in organising and managing a gleaning activity:

  • The activity needs to be kept to a manageable size. If there will be a large number of people involved consider dividing them into groups with a leader of each to coordinate the activity.
  • Contact local businesses and community groups and ask them for help in providing harvesting tools, portable toilets, refreshments, transport of produce, etc.
  • Make sure gleaners have drinks to avoid health impacts. Snacks may be necessary if the gleaning takes longer than an hour.
  • If volunteer gleaners don’t have their own tools, you might consider providing them. Spend some time showing gleaners how to harvest the produce correctly.
  • Make sure you have adequate arrangements for delivery of the gleaned produce either to needy groups such as homeless shelters, or to the gleaners homes.
  • Distribute fact sheets for gleaners prior to the day, giving them suggestions as to appropriate clothing, refreshments and letting them know what will be happening on the day.
  • Pre-think all the possible logistical arrangements and make sure they are organised will in advance.
  • Have a contingency plan in case of bad weather or unforeseen problems.
  • Make sure there are plans for clean up to ensure the farmers’ land and amenities are left in good condition.

Food recovery and gleaning projects can make a real contribution to the reduction of hunger, and the reduction of waste.