Gleaning is the time-honored practice of combing through fields, harvesting that which the farmer has left behind. In a contemporary context, that can mean fruits or vegetables that are too big, small, or oddly-shaped to meet mainstream specifications. Because labor is among the biggest expenses on diversified farms, gleaning can also mean harvesting a crop that a grower has chosen not to harvest knowing that he or she may not be able to break even on that labor.
Philabundance, the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley and a member of the Feeding America network of food banks, has a new program to make sure that crops in the field like these don’t go to waste. The Philabundace gleaning program replaces farm labor with volunteers, capitalizing on a resurgence of interest in agriculture, and employing a pick-your-own model where volunteers harvest instead on behalf of those in need.
Food security in a contemporary context doesn’t strictly mean lack of access to calories, but consistent access to a variety of nutritious, satisfying, and culturally appropriate foods. Unfortunately for hunger relief organizations like Philabundance, accessing donations of high-quality foods, specifically fruits and vegetables, is especially difficult. Gleaning programs allow small-scale farmers, who aren’t often in the position to make big donations, to contribute in this mutually-beneficial model.
Now in its second season, the Philabundance gleaning program has commitments from two New Jersey farms: Porch Farms in Pedricktown, and AT Buzby Farm in Woodstown. In its pilot year, Philabundance gleaned more than 14,000 pounds of fresh produce. This year, in just four gleans, volunteers have already harvested 2,673 pounds of green zucchini and 6,765 pounds sweet corn. That’s almost 10,000 meals worth of fresh, local vegetables that would have otherwise gone to waste going directly to the people in our community who need them most. A beautiful, local solution to the persistent problem of hunger.
Lend a hand! Philabundance needs gleaning volunteers on Mondays, Thursdays and select Saturdays! Contact Yasmin Roberti, Philabundance’s Agricultural Initiatives AmeriCorps VISTA, or visit Philabundance to sign up!
Emily Teel is an alumna of Fair Food, Philabundance, and Greener Partners, and a food freelancer profoundly dedicated to sustainable, delicious food in Philadelphia. See more of her work at www.emilyteel.com.