When Crops Go To Waste
Regardless of the weather or season, around the country gleaners are saving crops from rotting in the fields.
Gleaning (also known as food recovery or food rescue) is an ancient practice where crops left over from the harvest are gathered and redistributed to the less fortunate. The primary target of gleaning: crops missed by mechanical harvesters or crops that didn't meet aesthetic standards required by supermarkets.
Crops can also be left to waste when the farmers have a surplus of food. If there is more supply than demand for the produce, it makes more financial sense for farmers to leave the crops in the field than spend the time and money to harvest them. Because of these reasons, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that 96 billion pounds of raw food go to waste annually in the United States.
Not only is that 1/5 of America's food, but it is enough to feed roughly 49 million people who otherwise go hungry.
Rescuing Unwanted Crops
This is where gleaners come in. In light of the growing hunger crisis in America, gleaning has been making a comeback. Organizations like the non-profit Society of St. Andrew organize volunteers who collect the extra crops and redistribute them to organizations that serve the hungry.
The gleaners coordinate with the farmers, who then let the volunteers work through their fields, most often by hand, and pick up as many of the crops as they can. The produce is then distributed to where it will be of most help.
In Bloomington, Indiana this would include organizations like the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Mother Hubbard's Cupboard Food Pantry, and area churches that sponsor free meals. The fresh vegetables and produce are counted as donations from the farmers, who in turn receive a tax rebate.
According to the Society of St. Andrew, even though there are more than 40 million people at a daily risk of hunger, people in the U.S. throw away over 260 million pounds of food every day through the harvesting, retail, and consumer food levels.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
If you are interested in learning more about gleaning or helping save food that would otherwise be wasted, visit these sites:
- Gleaning A Harvest For The Needy By Fighting Waste (NPR)
- Society of St. Andrew (Society of St. Andrew)
- Food Recovery and Gleaning Initiative: A Citizen's Guide To Food Recovery (USDA)