Traditionally defined as the gathering of anything left over after a harvest, gleaning is an ancient form of food recovery that is making an amazing modern recovery.
Picking leftover crops for the local community was an essential part of both farm life and the harvest process for hundreds of years, commonly seen through the end of World War II. Over the last two centuries, private property laws and farming technology have limited gleaners’ rights. As recent years have brought food injustice to light, increasing public support for local agriculture, waste reduction, and improving foods’ nutritional qualities, a fresh wave of organizations have returned to gleaning.
Well over 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the US alone, while 49 million people, including more than 16 million children, are at risk of going hungry. This has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic; the Utah food bank has predicted a large spike in food-insecure Utahans. Before the pandemic there were 1 in 7 children facing food insecurity; now, due to school closures and job loss, the number has almost certainly grown. Addressing all of these pressing issues, gleaning groups are at the front lines of those helping to stabilize the nation’s shaky food supply, perfectly positioned to leverage one problem- a bounty of unsellable crops- to help solve another- rampant hunger.
The Green Urban Lunch Box is the largest gleaning organization in the state of Utah. We work with fruit tree homeowners, local seniors, volunteers, and our own small farm initiative to harvest and collect as much food as possible. Last year (2019) we were able to donate 16,742 pounds of produce to the Utah Food Bank in addition to the produce we provided weekly to 125 seniors and 45 families at our Free Farm Stands.
Another organization to highlight is the Association of Gleaning Organizations (AGO), recently founded by GULB’s founder, Shawn Peterson. AGO builds the capacity of organizations recovering fresh fruit and vegetables from farms, gardens, and backyards across North America and creates a hub to support and connect with other gleaning organizations.
Gleaning requires lots of effort and coordination between many different individuals (volunteers, community groups, homeowners, senior citizens, gardeners, other farmers, agencies that serve the hungry, etc) but it is an incredible way to foster strong local community food systems. If you want to get involved, sign up for our newsletter!