When I started farming a few years later, I took over a field that had been planted in onions. A few weeks after the last harvest, a group of visiting friends collected dozens of pounds of onions from a small corner of the field. They were very small onions, left on the ground either because they slipped through the harvesting equipment or because the farmers simply didn’t have a market for them. Hundreds of pounds got plowed into the field the next spring.
Many crops, even in our days of hyper-efficient machines, are harvested in ways that leave plenty of edible produce behind.
Gleaning is the ancient practice of gathering food left over from the harvest. In some faith traditions and even old legal systems, gleaning is mandated as a way to prevent the worst hunger in communities. Gleaning described in the Torah, or Old Testament, required farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested for the poor to gather. Until the practice was outlawed in 1788, English tenant farmers had gleaning rights in their landlord’s fields.
In our modern world, the definition of gleaning has been expanded from the farmer’s field to the modern retail environment. Supermarkets often give day-old baked goods, dairy products about to reach sell-by dates and other products to food banks to distribute to people in need. Some large food banks, like the Oregon Food Bank, run extensive gleaning programs on farms and in retail environments that benefit volunteers and small food pantries across the state.
Locally, we are lucky to have an active gleaning program run by Kelley Nolan, the director of Del Norte Reads.
The Del Norte Gleaning Project uses all-volunteer labor to harvest unwanted produce and deliver it to people in need, either directly or through local food distribution programs. They’ll come to you to harvest your abundant apples, over-zealous zucchinis and other edibles. This is their second year of providing service to the community.
There are two ways you can get involved with this project. First, if you have fruit trees or other produce that you aren’t harvesting for yourself, give the Gleaning Project a call so they can harvest it for those in need. Maybe you even want to plan for that by planting extra. Check out Plant a Row for the Hungry, a nationwide project of the Garden Writers Association.
A second way to help is by volunteering. If you have free time and willing hands, the Del Norte Gleaning Project welcomes your help. When calls come in from gardeners to pick ripe produce, there have to be volunteers at the ready.
The Gleaning Project is hosting a volunteer training session next week, on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. The training will be at the Del Norte Reads office in Mason Mall and will last an hour. If you lead a youth group, come learn how they can do service projects through gleaning.
If you’re wondering why this project exists, you can thank hunger. Hunger is an ever-present part of the human story, and in Del Norte, it plays a bigger role than most people might think. One in every three of our children lives in a food-insecure household. That means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from; they sometimes run out of food resources; and they might even skip meals occasionally when there is simply nothing left.
So whether you’re interested in being a volunteer or a donor, gleaning is one way you can make a difference in our community. You can reach the Del Norte Gleaning Project by email at delnorte