Gleaning—the collection of food that’s been left behind after harvesting—can be traced back to the times of the Old Testament, when farmers were told to allow the collection of their leftover produce either by or for the needy. Today, in the United States, groups of volunteers have dedicated themselves to salvaging what the USDA estimates to be 96 billion pounds of produce that is left in fields every year. That’s 20% of the nation’s food supply. In addition, it is estimated that every year, close to 16 million children are at risk of going hungry. Gleaning helps fight that battle as gleaned crops go to local food banks and pantries. Farmers Against Hunger (FAH) has been part of the Harvesting for the Hungry movement in New Jersey, bringing volunteers together in support of helping the needy enjoy fresh produce, while also supporting locally based growers and producers since 1996. They deliver to more than 70 organizations statewide. In short, gleaning helps low income people get access to fresh food while building strong relationships in communities and with local farms.
On commercial farms, gleaning happens after the harvesting process is complete because mechanical machinery often leaves food in the fields. On medium to smaller farms, it occurs when the collection of food costs more then the profit gained and the farmer can’t afford to collect it. Ort Farms in Long Valley, has been gleaning for four years. “Gleaning is important because we are a community-oriented family farm and we like to help those in need,” says Nicole Ort Moke, farm market manager. “Gleaning provides a perfect win-win situation that allows us to eliminate waste and see produce go into the hands of [people] who need it.” Ort Farms also values the volunteer workforce, noting that this group makes up “an integral part of the gleaning programs.” She goes on to say, “The produce is here, we just need to find someone to pick it! We have a strong sense of pride in what we grow and it’s such a great feeling to see produce that used to be wasted, go to those who need it.” The farm produces the bounty, volunteers pick it and FAH delivers it. Together, they put this food to good use while also helping the agricultural community cut back on food waste.
Our bodies function best on wholesome, real food, but according to the New Jersey Agricultural Society, more than one in six Americans report an inability to afford enough food. From farms to farmers markets to abandoned fields, there is a variety of edible food in our midst and gleaning helps it to cross socio-economic boundaries and allow those Americans who don’t have the time, money, or information to eat good food consistently. Gleaning offers an ideal arrangement to all parties involved.
If you would like to learn more about gleaning or sign up to volunteer, please visit New Jersey Agricultural Society. To help support The New Jersey Agricultural Society’s Farmers Against Hunger (FAH) program, vote for the Program Director, Kristina Guttadora now through August 31. Guttadora was selected as one of three candidates for the NJ Heroes Foundation’s “NJ Heroes” Award. If she wins, she will use the $7,500 prize to kick start the FAH’s new truck fund. With your help, we can help get the truck fund off to a good start.