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Gleaning - The Resurrection of an Old Practice

Updated on March 5, 2012
The Gleaners. Jean-Franois Millet. 1857
The Gleaners. Jean-Franois Millet. 1857

In biblical times, the Jewish people were required by law to leave the gleanings in their fields for the old, poor, widowed, children and hungry travelers to gather. Gleanings are the produce left over after the first harvest. In many cases, it is not profitable to harvest a field a second time; so, the produce would have been left to rot in the field if not for the gleaning law. Those gleaning the fields did not need to ask permission of the landowner. After the first harvest, it became their right to glean the fields for useable produce.

The gleaning law helped add to the personal esteem of the individual poor or hungry. They did not have to beg anyone for food or money to buy food – it was their right to enter the fields and gather what they needed for their personal use.

Many cultures have promoted gleaning as part of their welfare system. Farmers have produce removed from their fields before it rots; and, the needy have access to fresh, wholesome food. In some cases, the farmers were required to leave a border of unharvested produce around their fields for the needy to collect.

In Nineteenth century England gleaning was a legal right for cottagers. In fact, the right to glean was taken so seriously that in some small villages the sexton would often ring a church bell at 8:00 a.m. and again at 7:00 p.m. to tell the gleaners when to begin and end work.

Today, the practice of gleaning is experiencing a resurgence. People are realizing how much food is going to waste that, with a little bit of organization and effort, could be collected and used to alleviate hunger in their local area.

In actuality, food that is gleaned is usually more nutritious than food we purchase in the supermarkets. Food in supermarkets can be a week or more away from picking allowing some of their nutrients to be lost; while, gleaned food is usually distributed within 2-3 days making it fresher also.

Gleaning can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  1. When a field has been harvested by the farmer, he calls the gleaning agency nearest him.
  2. Collection of food from supermarkets that would be thrown away; but, are still within date.
  3. Suburban gleaning: homeowners who can’t, won’t or are unable to pick their own fruit, call when the fruit trees in their yard are ready to be picked. If homeowners find they have planted more vegetables than they can use, call the gleaners.
  4. Sometimes, abandoned properties have fruit trees.
  5. In British Columbia, where I live, we have blackberry brambles growing wild everywhere for the harvesting. Many places have similar free-for-the-picking bonanzas.

Here is the story of Abundance, a suburban gleaning group from Sheffield, England.

Daniele Rinaudo is the organizer for the south Sheffield branch of Abundance, a voluntary organization that picks unwanted fruit and vegetables from the city's gardens and public spaces. The majority of the food harvested is given to projects such as Sure Start children's centers and Salvation Army shelters for homeless people.

"I was scared of heights before I started doing this," says Rinaudo. "Going picking was quite a drastic way to face that fear, but now I love the climbing."

The best, most appetizing fruit is given away whole and the less appetizing is transformed into chutney, jam and juice. Some fruit is always left for the owners of the trees; although, some are suspicious of the fruit from their own backyards. While the fruit is delicious, at its nutritional peak, it is not aesthetically pleasing; and, would never match supermarket standards. Hence, the hesitancy to eat.

The irony is that many of the tree owners Abundance deals with give their home-grown fruit (usually apples) away; and, buy apples from a supermarket. The conditioning of so many years of supermarket shopping has influenced people as to what a good apple (or other piece of fruit) should look like; and, are not willing try apples that do not live up to this standard.

Abundance has an educational element to its philosophy as they reconnect locals with a plentiful source of local, fresh and seasonal foods.

Gleaning is definitely one part of the solution to alleviating world hunger. Check out your area to see what is available close at hand. The gleaners always receive a portion of what is gleaned if desired; so, it is a wonderful way of giving back, helping others and getting some really fresh produce on your own table.

S.H.A.R.E. - a gleaning project in the US.

News story regarding gleaning


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    • pippap profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Surrey, BC

      I really like that. What a wonderful way to give back.

    • Susan Trump profile image

      Susan Trump 

      3 years ago from San Diego, California

      Nice to know of this. In Santa Cruz people put extra vegetables on their front steps for others to take. Lovely idea.

    • pippap profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Surrey, BC

      There are still some gleaners today; but, they are few and far between. So much edible nutritious produce sits in the fields or on the trees and rots because it is financially cheaper to lose this small harvest than it is to pick ALL of it. This is where gleaners could come in. If the gleaners have no use for the produce themselves, it can be donated to food banks, seniors, single mothers, the working poor...the list is endless. Gleaning, a practise for all ages!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for this Hub pippap. That is the first time in my long life that I've heard of the gleaning laws in Jerusalem, and I think it is a wonderful idea.

    • D.A.L. profile image


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      It is really sickening the food that is wasted when so many people are starving in this world. Very informative hub I hope it helps to make the powers that be wake up to the fact, a lot can be done for little expenditure.


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