Gleaning: an ancient way of reducing food waste

Updated on 06 November 2012 | 0 Comments

The revival of an age-old practice is putting excess crops to good use.

For me, the most interesting revival in the current series of the BBC’s Great British Food Revival didn’t involve a foodstuff but a food gathering practice – gleaning.

Gleaning is when farmers invite people onto their land to collect fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. Traditionally, farmers opened up their fields to poorer members of the community after harvest time.

Now it's been brought back en masse by the Gleaning Network UK, part of the Feeding The 5,000 charity project. They have been invited to pick produce that may have been rejected by supermarkets because of its shape or colour, or because it's been overproduced.

“There's an incredible amount of food wasted by farms,” says Niki Charalampopoulou, project co-ordinator for Feeding The 5,000.

“Gleaning is mentioned in the Bible and it was a common practice in Medieval times. We’re reviving it on a massive scale.”

The new movement's roots

“It started a year ago with a gleaning in Lincolnshire that produced half a tonne of cabbages,” she continues. These were cooked up and served as a part of a free banquet for 5,000 people in London’s Trafalgar Square last year.

Since then, there have been gleanings in Kent and Sussex and gleaning groups have been formed in Bristol and Manchester. And, like me, you may have seen Michel Roux Jr gleaning strawberries at a farm in Kent in the first episode of The Great British Food Revival.

“Our most recent gleaning was at a commercial orchard in Kent where we gleaned between one and a half and two tonnes of apples and pears,” said Niki.

“The food we glean is given to food distribution charities such as FareShare, which distributes it to homeless and other charities.”

Want to help?

Now the practice has been successfully reintroduced, Feeding The 5,000 is keen to expand the Gleaning Network, both in terms of volunteer gleaners and farmers keen to have their excess crops picked.

“We’re looking to establish gleaming hubs across the country," said Niki.  “We’ve already established a network of farmers but we would love to hear from others who will let us glean their fields.”

If you can help, head to the Gleaning Network UK website.

More on cutting down food waste

How a little common sense can help us cut our food waste

How to make the most of leftovers

How to freeze your excess fruit and vegetables

Our £600 million-worth of Christmas food waste


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