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Feeding through Gleaning!

I’ve been doing a lot of research about gleaning the past couple months, and it is great! It’s easy, it’s local, it feeds so many birds with one piece of bread: it reduces food and yard waste, feeds people.


For context, gleaning is the process of harvesting food that would otherwise go to waste and give a better destination than the landfill. Common destinations for food include: Hungry people!, livestock, and compost. Given how much food goes to waste every year (6 million pounds in California) there’s a lot of work that gleaners are able to do, and the best part is that you can be a part of that work!


"[Gleaning is] easy, it's local, it feeds so many birds with one piece of bread: it reduces food and yard waste, feeds people..."

There’s wasted food everywhere, from expired food in grocery stores to ugly food on farms to the fruit tree in your neighbor’s backyard that rots on the ground every year - all with the potential of being given a second life. What surprised me though, is how many gleaning organizations already exist in the state and the country! Take a look at this map of the Bay Area, where I grew up, and you can see how many organizations are gleaning (and I’m sure there’s more not listed):


A few Bay Area gleaning organizations!


A significant part of my work at the Lost Sierra Food Project (serving Plumas County) has been doing research and developing a plan to start our own gleaning program. What I’ve found is that gleaning isn’t often done on an organizational level, but on a purely community volunteer basis. Which makes sense given the low bar to entry - really, just interested people. Extra tools and organization can help, but are by no means necessary.


"There's wasted food everywhere, from expired food in grocery stores to ugly food on farms to the fruit tree in your neighbor's backyard that rots on the ground every year - all with the potential of being given a second life."

Gleaning provides a window into various parts of our local food systems and I think is a great way for people to get more involved with the system in a larger way too. The Reno Gleaning Project encourages fruit tree owners to care for their trees by pruning and watering them every year to keep up their heath, and another project called Sonoma Food Runners has seen the development of connections amongst a wide array of food stakeholders with the potential to support each other.


The saying goes that an apple-a-day keeps the doctor away. I have doubts about the immortalizing quality of apples, but I’m confident that eating fresh fruit on a regular basis is good for the health. To that end, in order for all 20,000 citizens in Plumas County to have an apple a day, we’d need over 7 million apples. That’s a lot, sure, but gleaning can make a big dent.


If we assume there’s 2,000 apple trees in the county, each producing 700 apples every year, that’s enough for 20% of the county to be getting their apple-a-day. And that’s all from existing local trees! All that’s needed is to harvest them in fall, which at 10 people per tree should be quick work.


"The saying goes that an apple-a-day keeps the doctor away. I have doubts about the immortalizing quality of apples, but I’m confident that eating fresh fruit on a regular basis is good for the health."

Plumas County's black oak

Another aspect I like about gleaning is how well it could lead into a deeper appreciation for the surrounding landscape. In Plumas County, one of the most common trees is the black oak. Acorns from the black oak are delicious and nutritious, a food staple for people living in these mountains for thousands of years, yet despite their abundance they’re not common in the modern kitchens of the mountains. Of course, the whole colonial genocide of the past few centuries that goes a long way towards explaining this - but, given the 19% of county residents dealing with food insecurity, I think that such abundance shouldn’t be ignored.


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