As FoodCyclers, food fanatics and fans of the open air, both Sarah and Clare at FoodCycle HQ have been keen to go gleaning for a long time.
Thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables are rejected every year because they do not meet supermarkets’ strict cosmetic criteria. Gleaning is a way of saving this food and putting it to good use. In ancient times, gleaners went around fields after harvest to gather produce that had been left behind. Now, in the 21st century, volunteers collect leftover crops from farmers’ fields after commercially harvests: fruits and vegetables which have been discarded because they are a bit wonky or misshapen (yet are still perfectly good to eat) are collected and sent to charities and food projects.
Though our joint From Farm to Fork project which we run with Feedback, we all now have the chance to save surplus food from fields and redirect it to feed hungry people.
On a sunny Monday in August, we headed down to a farm in Sussex to save surplus sweetcorn. Over the course of six hours, a team of over fifty volunteers gleaned a massive 6 tonnes of sweetcorn which was then sent to food charities.
The technique is simple: find a nice looking sweetcorn (fat, full-bodied), bend, tug, remove the husk, compare corn with your neighbour. Repeat. Several thousand times.
What we learnt from the day:
A lot can be achieved with a team of volunteers: in the space of a day, around 50 volunteers of all ages (including some very small bods) gleaned a whopping 6 tonnes of sweetcorn. When faced with a huge field, the task can feel daunting but it’s amazing what can happen when people work together to make a difference.
Getting back in touch with food is amazing: there’s an incredible sense of satisfaction pulling a crop from the ground knowing that in the space of 24 hours it will be in a kitchen ready to be served to those that need it most. Pausing a moment in the field to taste the corn straight from the stalk really brought home how great freshly picked produce tastes. It was lovely to see how many children and young people were out in the fields and learning about food first-hand. There was still a huge amount of value in those sweetcorn and it felt both bittersweet that this food was going to a good place, yet much more of it would be left to rot.
Good food should be put to good use: we were so happy to know that this food would be going to food projects like FoodCycle, and that almost a tonne went to the refugee camps in Calais. At the same time, we know that there are many millions of people who are hungry and alone in our towns and cities – our mission is now more important than ever.
If you’d like to get involved in gleaning (it’s a great day out and incredibly rewarding!) head over to our From Farm to Fork page and get stuck in!