Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. It is an age old practice which helps avoid food waste. In many parts of Europe, including England and France, the Biblically-derived right to glean the fields was reserved for the poor; a right, enforceable by law, that continued in parts of Europe into modern times.
It is estimated that one third of food grown globally is never eaten and that around 16% of crops are wasted before even leaving the farm. One reason for this is fruit and vegetables not being ‘perfect’ for current supermarket standards.
The Gleaning Network has been taking eager volunteers to visit farms around the country since 2012 to harvest surplus food. Many charities benefit from around 100 tonnes of fresh, nutritious produce collected a yearly by the ever expanding Gleaning Network across country.
Locally, the Sussex Gleaning Network organise volunteers to visit farms and harvest surplus produce working with farmers in search of fruit and veg in need of rescue. The produce is harvested and donated to local charity partners like FareShare who distribute crop to their network of charitable organisations feeding vulnerable people. Sussex volunteers have gleaned over 20 tonnes of produce that would have otherwise gone to waste, including apples, pears, sweetcorn, spinach, plums and cherries.
In addition to saving tons of food from waste the volunteers who donate their time benefit from of being outside in the countryside and being part of a team of wonderful people. People of all abilities are always welcome to get involved including non drivers but there is a fair amount of physical work involved and car owners are particularly useful for lift sharing to some of the remote farms.
Like the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership on Facebook who often share local gleaning opportunities to get involved in.
Image credit: Coco Sato