For many, October is harvest month. Those with gardens are flooded with tomatoes, zucchini
and squash, enough so they share generously with their neighbors and friends. Farms all over the
state have the most variety they have had all year, and farm markets are filled with color.
Unfortunately, those same farms are often left with hundreds of pounds of fruit and vegetables
which are not suitable for sale, either because of appearance or size. A spokesperson at
Backyard Farms indicated that tomatoes which are not absolutely perfect and don’t meet their
high-quality standards are sold to restaurants to be used to make tomato sauce. According to the
documentary Just Eat It, there are size requirements for much of the produce that is sold at
supermarkets. Bananas, for example, must fit inside a device that looks like a carpenter’s square.
Bananas that don’t meet this standard are often left on the ground to rot. Harvesting them is just
too expensive and labor-intensive for most farmers. Yet, at the same time, some of our
neighbors are going without food. One solution to this inequity is gleaning, an effort to reduce
food waste and increase access to healthy food for all.
Gleaning, or food rescue, is defined by the Maine Gleaning Network as: “gathering of produce
after or during an active harvest and donating the produce to humans rather than for compost or
for animal feed. The produce gleaned could be used for direct distribution to those in need of
emergency food or it could be processed at a soup kitchen.”
In other words, some vegetables may look ugly, but they can still taste pretty good, especially to
families that struggle with food insecurity. Grocery stores may reject a carrot because it is
misshapen; however, the carrot still tastes like a carrot and has the same nutritional value. A
2016 report by ReFed estimates that 20 billion pounds of produce were left out in fields across
the country, for mostly cosmetic reasons.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 15.8% of Maine households, or about 200,000
Mainers, are food insecure. Of this, approximately 20% are children Some of these people
receive food assistance through SNAP or WIC programs; others rely on food banks and
community food aid programs. These programs are extremely helpful. Individuals who staff
these programs need to be congratulated for their dedication to helping others. To expect them to
go out into the field and gather leftover produce would take more resources than most programs
can spare. While farmers already donate much of their excess food to these programs, farmers
often don’t have the time to harvest food that will never go to market.
Hence the creation of Maine Gleaning Network, whose goal is to “ensure that Maine’s food
system can count on professionalized gleaning and food rescue services to support local farms,
community food security, and living economies.” Last year, dozens of volunteers with the Maine
Gleaning Network rescued 10,000 pounds of potatoes from a single farm in northern Maine and
gleaned a variety of produce from many other locations. This year they are working with local
organizations across the state to assemble food rescue teams. They have declared October 7-16th
the First Annual Maine Gleaning Week with food rescue events scheduled around the state. To
learn more about this organization, check out their web site www.mainegleaningnetwork.org.
To celebrate Maine Gleaning Week, volunteers from Healthy Waterville Action Food Recovery
Team and Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team are arranging
gleaning trips in this local area. Some of the food collected will be featured at a table dedicated to rescued food at the Poverty Action Coalition’s Free Community Harvest Dinner on October
17th at the Muskie Center.
Here is how you can help: If you have extra produce to donate, if you would like to help collect
food for community meals or service organizations, or if you are interested in receiving rescued
food for a community meal contact Healthy Waterville Action Team on Facebook or through
their website (http://www.healthynorthernkennebec.me/healthy-waterville/action- team/)
Matt Huck is a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Permaculture Team and the Rethink,
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team. He is also a member of Healthy Waterville Food Recovery
Committee. He lives in Fairfield.
Last modified: April 6, 2018