Gleaning to Fight Hunger and Food Waste

Potomac Vegetable Farms uses sustainable farming practices; the marigolds bordering this pepper patch are a natural form of pest control.
Credit: Lara Bryant, NRDC

Last week, I joined several volunteers to glean harvest from Potomac Vegetable Farms in Virginia. 

Gleaning is a historical practice that goes all the way back to the Bible (Ruth famously met her future husband while gleaning to feed herself and mother-in-law, Naomi); to glean, you simply go into a field (with the farmer’s permission) and collect whatever edible portions of the crop are left after harvest. In Ruth’s day, it was a great way for the poor to get enough food to eat, and to make sure that nothing went to waste. Today, volunteers usually glean the leftover food for distribution to soup kitchens and food banks. 

I had a basket full of peppers in no time.
Credit: Chris Hartley

It was my first time volunteer gleaning, and I was very surprised by the amount of food Potomac Farms was willing to donate that was left over after harvest (NRDC’s Wasted report found that a whopping 20% of fruits and vegetables are lost in production.) In less than two hours, a group of about 8 from USDA’s returned Peace Corps volunteers, the DC Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, and DC Central Kitchen collected a van full of boxes of swiss chard, peppers, and green beans that were completely edible, if not as pretty as you may see in a grocery store.  If you're wondering why so many vegetables aren't harvested for sale, JoAnne Berkenkamp has a great blog that you can check out.  Actually, I think the chard in these pictures looks pretty great. Now, all that food can be cooked up and redistributed by DC Central Kitchen, a non-profit that finds creative ways to fight hunger and poverty in our community.

We gleaned a van full of boxes of Swiss chard, shown here, as well as peppers and green beans.
Credit: Lara Bryant, NRDC

Volunteer gleaning is a great way to get in some therapeutic gardening, get some exercise, give back to your community, and fight hunger and food waste. Read more about NRDC’s work to reduce food waste here; for a deeper dive into the challenges and opportunities of using imperfect produce, check out JoAnne's Beyond Beauty research.

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