A community food gleaning program
Experts tell us that as much as 47% of food grown and produced in the U.S. ends up in the dump. Meanwhile, 43% of school children in Sonoma County qualify for free or reduced lunch, considered an indicator of poverty and often linked to food insecurity, or a lack of consistent access to healthy food. This begs the question, “Why can’t more of this food go to the people who need it?”
In biblical times, farmers were admonished to leave extra food crops, particularly from fruit trees and cornfields, for the poor and travelers. Throughout history, in many places gleaning was a right granted to the poorest by the rural community, allowing them to return to the fields at sunset to gather the ears of wheat left by the harvesters.
In these days of fast food, “efficient” high-tech agriculture, and rapid transit food distribution systems, you’d think that more food would make it to people’s mouths, and less to the trashcan. But it doesn’t. The number of undernourished and food insecure people continues to grow (even here in Petaluma), in pace with our overflowing landfills.
Enter the modern food gleaning movement. As communities are becoming aware of the vast quantities of good food going to waste, food gleaning programs are sprouting up in many places.
Gleaning can be as simple as a few individuals harvesting their backyard fruit trees and delivering their fresh fruit to a neighbor or a local food pantry, or as complex as a statewide network of non-profits serving tens of thousands of low-income households with farm-picked, packaged or prepared food (and even firewood). In addition to connecting good food to people who need it, folks are discovering that gleaning helps to connect neighbor to neighbor, to increase awareness of the potential bounty of local food systems, and to foster a greater sense of community.
Below is a chart that illustrates the Petaluma Bounty Hunters gleaning program after 7 years of operation. It by no means captures all the stakeholders, agencies, and players, but is a tool to describe how Petaluma Bounty Hunters efforts fit into a larger network of volunteers and service agencies working together to prevent hunger. The reality is a lot more fluid and complex as we all work together toward a single mission- to prevent food waste while helping those in need.