Gleaning can feed your community, and it’s even legal!

It feels like we’re back to the early days of the Sprout, last spring, when all of our articles were about COVID this and coronavirus that…Well, let’s talk about something else, shall we? How about gleaning! What? What the heck is that? According to the Slow Movement website, gleaning is “the collection of crops either from farmers’ fields that have already been mechanically harvested or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest, due to low market prices.”
Why are we talking about gleaning again? Well, in a time of economic despair for so many, it’s a good solution to the hunger problem. Farmers have extra food in their fields (because they’ve lost restaurant buyers due to the pandemic, because they’re leaving the “ugly” fruit on the trees and the holey lettuce in the fields, because they simply have an excess). If it’s ripe for the pickin’ but no one else wants to buy it, it doesn’t mean it’s not unwanted. It just can be difficult to find someone who actually wants to spend the time picking it.

That’s where people like celebrity chef Duskie Etes, now in her role leading “Food to Pantry” in Northern California’s Sonoma County come in. Duskie and a crew of volunteers go around to community gardens and farms in Sonoma County gleaning the extra goods for their eventual destination of food pantries all across the county.

Now, at Farm Commons we disappoint our farm law workshop attendees over and over again with the first hard, cold lessons of employment law: Almost everyone who does the work of the farm is an employee. But, gleaning is fun to talk about because it’s one of those situations where the people doing the gleaning are not employees. This is because they are not doing “the work of the farm.” The work of the farm is to grow and harvest farm products to then sell commercially. When you glean farm products, these were never going to end up being sold commercially so this is not the work of the farm!

So glean away! You’ll do a world of good in your community by letting people come and take away your seconds, and the good news is, nobody’s breaking the law in the process!

To learn more about Duskie Estes’ remarkable work through Food to Pantry, see this Civil Eats article that ran last December.