Walking through the produce section of my local grocery store, I stop to admire how each of the granny smith apples looks just like its bright green neighbor. Like a company of soldiers they sit erect, blemish free and perfectly shiny. But then I wonder about their possibly less perfect cousins – picture brown and blemished, less vibrant green cousins if you will. Where do they end up? Discarded? Given away? Or thankfully and hopefully become a part of a local gleaning program? Let’s hope for the latter.
Gleaning, as defined by the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture), is the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/country fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need. Biblically, farmers were told not to harvest the perimeters of their farms, but to leave them for travelers, the homeless and the feeble. In modern times, these foods are now left behind for different reasons. These range from the use of large harvesting vehicles that aren’t able to pick up everything, labor forces that are too small or can’t afford the time to go back through fields once they have been machine harvested, but mostly because grocery chain regulations deem the produce “ugly”. The food left behind, however, is still edible, nutritious and by all intents and purposes exactly the same food you would otherwise purchase from a retailer. It may be bulbous, misshapen, vary in color and size and even have surface blemishes, but that carrot has all the potassium of its’ perfectly shaped neighbor. I don’t know about you, but having a pristine potato for my home cooked stew really doesn’t make a difference. If it can feed my family and keep us all healthy and happy, I’m sold!
Now that you know what gleaning is, perhaps you’re wondering why it’s so important. Good question young Padawan (said in my best Obi Wan Kenobi Star Wars voice). It’s estimated that Americans throw away approximately 6 billion pounds of ugly food every year. You heard me… that’s billion with a capital B. That’s labor, water, fertilizer and a bevy of meals that could otherwise be used to feed its’ ever growing population of homeless and hungry. Luckily many states have recognized this epidemic and started either farm sponsored gleaning projects or non-profits with the specific goal of pushing gleaning initiatives throughout the state. Many organizations partner together to do mass projects so that they can retrieve as much product as possible at once while others focus on numerous small projects each year. Not only does FRESHFARM Markets bring exceptional produce from farms in the area, but we also have a gleaning project of our own. We partner with numerous organizations so that the produce, once gleaned, gets into the right hands. One such partner is the DC Central Kitchen. Its’ main focus, as emboldened on their website states, “our mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities”. DC Central Kitchen delivers meals to homeless shelters, transitional homes and other various nonprofit organizations while through their job training program trains individuals in the culinary arts. Going hand in hand with these meals are the fruits of our gleaning labor. Even Walmart has gotten in on the fun, offering “I’m perfect” apples in 300 of its Florida stores. These ironically imperfect or ugly fruits are hopefully just the beginning of their ugly fruit campaign.
While writing this article I found so many projects country wide that honestly astounded me. Why haven’t we heard of this before? Why isn’t there a gleaning project in every city? Why isn’t everyone volunteering to help these projects? If you want to get involved, which I highly suggest, check out FRESHFARMS’ volunteer opportunities and then shoot over to The National Gleaning Project’s site here. It provides not only a listing of gleaning projects by state, but also information on laws, regulations and interesting research which I found truly enlightening.
I’ve always believed food should be fun and bring people together. By grabbing what would be food waste from farms and the like we can also make food readily available to those who have none. Can’t get much better than that!
FRESHFARM Markets Gleaning Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.freshfarm.org/gleaning.html
Huffington Post. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eve-turow/what-you-need-to-know-about-gleaning_b_7603482.html
NPR.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/07/20/486664266/walmart-world-s-largest-grocer-is-now-selling-ugly-fruit-and-veg
The National Gleaning Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nationalgleaningproject.org/
U.S Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.usda.gov/documents/usda_gleaning_toolkit.pdf