Editor’s note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
It is unacceptable that 15% of Utahns are hungry. Though our nation has abundant food resources, hunger extends far our state. Across the United States, approximately 9.5 million families are food insecure.
Yet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that up to one-fifth of America’s food goes to waste every year. That amount could feed approximately 49 million people.
Gleaning is a way to help. Unlike the gleanings of ancient and Biblical times — the Bible instructs farmers to leave portions of their fields, olive groves and vineyards for the poor, while the Koran references charity on the day of harvest and avoiding waste — today’s efforts incorporate organized groups of volunteers. These modern gleaners work not only to harvest, but to distribute and preserve otherwise unwanted food.
The USDA defines gleaning as collecting farm crops left in fields that have been mechanically harvested, or from fields that wouldn’t be profitable to harvest. But gleaning organizations have their own ways to define the term. It is harvesting surplus vegetables that farmers would not harvest for market. It’s the act of reaping after the harvest — putting to use what is thought useless by working directly with the food producer.
We can expand the concept of gleaning to make sure local groups take advantage of the area’s growing season by collecting from backyard fruit trees and gardens — even fruit trees intended as ornamental plants.
Many people don’t recognize food resources. One apricot tree can produce 5,000 apricots. One family can’t use 5,000 apricots, but what the family doesn’t use the food bank could split up between 500 families. Food Sense Tooele County wants to motivate the community to know how much is out there and how much need there is. It wants to feed families, not landfills.
Gleaning improves local access to fresh produce for those on limited incomes. Plus, it engages individuals with their local food system, helps farms manage resources, and unites communities. Programs such as those being started by Food Sense Tooele County make contact with farmers and small growers, organize volunteers, and arrange transportation of food to community partners, such as food shelves and local service organizations.
While many farmers contact gleaning organizations to request assistance, some require outreach. It’s a matter of education and sometimes it takes a personal network. For the most part, people are thrilled to contribute. Food Sense Tooele County will make different arrangements with farmers or homeowners, and will always leave it nicer than when volunteers arrived. Most farmers don’t want their food to go to waste. A well-organized gleaning operation builds trust and sets a precedent of nurturing a mutually beneficial relationship.
Collaboration with community partners is the key. Food Sense Tooele County will work directly with farms in Tooele County but also wants the local farming community to know that it will take any excess product and distribute it to families in need.
As an added benefit, gleaning can bring together volunteers from all walks of life: college students and refugees, church groups and Girl Scouts. They harvest side-by-side, sharing stories and experiences. Time together in the fields builds friendships and new opportunities.
Food Sense Tooele County says it’s not too late in the season to volunteer for a gleaning project in our community, or to inspire friends and neighbors to do so. Right now, it’s all about creating relationships and partnerships.
To have a successful gleaning project, the community has to be engaged. A network of farmers, backyard gardeners, local organizations and volunteers is needed. USU Extension will hold an informational meeting and a “gleaned luncheon” on Saturday, Aug. 10 from noon-1 p.m. at the USU Extension Auditorium, 151 N. Main, Tooele.
Please contact Sarah Patino at Tooele County Food Sense for more information. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-277-2408.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at email@example.com.