Your guide to gleaning

Nick of Food Lifeline
October 13, 2021
by Ash Slupski

Food banks work with local farmers to provide fresh, local produce to people facing hunger and rescue food that would otherwise go to waste. Sometimes, food banks go directly to the fields to get these great fruits and veggies before they go bad. That’s where gleaners come in to help.

What is gleaning?

Gleaning is simply harvesting extra crops from farms and gardens to give to our neighbors facing hunger. Gleaning also helps farmers reduce food waste.

Farms account for 21% of all food waste in the United States. Unfortunately, the crops are at risk of becoming food waste if they have cosmetic issues that make them difficult to sell or if too many crops are available. Gleaners can step in to rescue that food.

Today, food banks and other anti-hunger programs organize gleaning to ensure reliable access to healthy produce. Food banks and gleaning are so closely connected that many food banks in the Feeding America network have “gleaner” in their name.

What do volunteer gleaners do?

Every year, food banks recruit volunteers to collect or glean food left in the fields after harvest. Food banks work directly with farms, orchards, and gardens to organize gleaning events. Food banks then train volunteers to glean and provide all the necessary tools.

Once gleaners collect the food, they’re cleaned, sorted, and boxed at food banks and then sent to food pantries, soup kitchens, and community food programs. Volunteers enjoy gleaning because it’s:

  • Fast-paced and gets you outdoors.
  • A unique experience. How many people can say they’ve walked through a cornfield pulling sweet corn off stalks?
  • An excellent workout with tons of walking, bending and tossing collected food into trucks.
  • Great for people with open schedules or who want to get involved right away. Food banks need to move quickly to rescue as much food as possible.

How do I volunteer as a gleaner?

Ask your local food bank about gleaning near you. Many food banks are actively looking for volunteers. However, if they are not open to volunteers during the pandemic or are too far from your house, they may know a local food pantry or soup kitchen that may need your help.

If you’re a farmer or commercial grower who wants to start gleaning, we encourage you to contact our produce sourcing team or your local food bank.

Pledge to support your food bank by volunteering

Food banks, food pantries, and meal programs in the Feeding America network are continuing to do what they do best - provide meals to people in need. Volunteers are critical to providing food to everyone during this difficult time.