What is Gleaning and how does it Improve Health?

You may have heard mention of gleaning in connection with the exciting Healthy Roots initiative here in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, but may not be familiar with the term or how gleaning is contributing to improved health in our community.  It is a very promising opportunity to prevent fresh local food from being wasted and help needy individuals and families put healthy food on their tables.  With our strong farming presence in northwestern Vermont and our culture of caring for one another, gleaning holds great potential here.

Gleaning is the gathering of unsold quality crops after harvest that would otherwise go to waste.  Fruits and vegetables that might have been tilled back into the soil are collected through the help of gleaners – often community volunteers. This produce is then distributed to sites that help feed our more vulnerable neighbors. Doing so reduces waste and develops a more dependable food system for the people, by the people. Currently the Healthy Roots team is coordinating local gleaning efforts to harvest vegetables and fruits on farms, picking up already harvested produce, and collecting produce post-farmers market. All of these vegetables and fruits go to charitable recipient sites (food shelves, meal programs) in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.  

Would you be surprised to hear that the passionate volunteer gleaners and the Healthy Roots staff have already gleaned nearly over 4,700 pounds of fresh local food here in our community this season alone?  This includes kale, blueberries, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, corn, cabbage, potatoes, beets, scallions, lettuce, beans, radish, and rhubarb.  That is more than triple our original goal of saving 1,500 pounds of food from going to waste in our first effort!  Special thanks go out to Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh and Valley Dream Farm in Cambridge who have been among the leaders in welcoming Healthy Roots’ gleaners. You may be even more surprised that the total estimate of fruit and vegetable loss in Franklin and Grand Isle counties could be as high as 678,489 pounds, according to a recent Salvation Farms study!  Clearly, gleaning holds an incredible opportunity to keep healthy food from going to waste and getting it to people who need it without other means to get it. 

Do you enjoy harvesting fruits and vegetables?  Interested in helping others?  Please consider volunteering as a gleaner. The Vermont Gleaning Collective has a website to help coordinate volunteers in local communities: http://vermontgleaningcollective.org/accounts/register/ There, you can register as someone interested in helping with gleaning and your geographic area of interest. Checking Franklin or Grand Isle County will connect you with Healthy Roots. A typical gleaning effort might take two to four hours and might involve working in the field or picking up produce or delivering it to food shelves – and you would get a notice in advance of what each opportunity entailed.  A sample notice would look like this: “Meet at Sample Farm in the front parking lot at 10:30. Be prepared to pick blueberries, either standing or sitting down. Bring comfortable clothing that you do not mind getting stained by blueberries. Bring water and a lunch- there is a lot of blueberries to be picked! This should be a great volunteer opportunity to provide families in need nutritionally packed berries! Here is a link to the farms website if you have any further questions about directions.”  Healthy Roots is also looking for new farms to participate in gleaning. If you have produce that you think could be redirected to help feed people in need rather than going to waste, please call Healthy Roots Coordinator Johanna Setta at 524-8947.

Improved nutrition is one of the strategies that helps address many of our top community health need priorities.  Helping ensure everyone in our community has access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is a tremendous step towards improved nutrition and reducing food waste makes perfect sense. NMC is a major funder of the Healthy Roots initiative as part of our investment in improved population health for the benefit of our community. As we work together through RiseVT to each embrace healthier lifestyles (visit www.risevt.com to join us), gleaning offers a wonderful opportunity to help our neighbors do the same.  So why not get involved?

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer