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Food for ME 
A Citizen Action Fact Sheet for Community Food Recovery

spoon and plateUniversity of Maine Cooperative Extension
Bulletin #4301

Food for Your Community: Gleaning and Sharing

Food recovery is the collection of wholesome food for distribution to the poor and hungry. It follows a basic humanitarian ethic that has been part of societies for centuries. We know that “gleaning,” or gathering after the harvest, goes back at least as far as biblical days. The term “field gleaning” refers to the collection of crops either from farmers’ fields that have already been mechanically harvested or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.

This fact sheet in the Food for ME series describes how you can set up a field gleaning project to benefit your community.

Points to Remember

Try to keep the activity to a manageable size. If you have a large number of volunteers, divide them into two or three smaller groups. Set a block of time for each to glean the fields. Or glean on two different days.

Have refreshments. The time of year will be a factor in what you serve volunteers at gleaning time.

Consider providing tools. If volunteers bring their own tools and water, you don’t need to. However, the “bring your own” approach may decrease the number of volunteers that participate.

Get help. Appoint some people to help volunteers harvest produce correctly.

Think ahead. This year’s gleaners may be next year’s project organizers or leaders.

Locating Farms for Donations

State departments of agriculture can also be extremely valuable resources in helping to identify donors for gleaning projects. These agencies are not only closely tied to the individual growers, but are also usually the offices that approve and establish farmers’ markets and organize the state and county fairs. Involving agencies can also help build a sense of community and cooperation at the local level.

Communicating with Potential Donors

Before going out to ask a farmer to donate, anticipate questions that the farmer is likely to raise. Keep in mind that a farmer is going to have some unique concerns that will need to be addressed. It’s important not to make promises you can’t keep, such as guaranteeing that no one will sue if they are injured while on the farm. Be prepared to discuss the liability provisions in detail; have a copy of federal and state “Good Samaritan” laws, or well-written summaries of their provisions, to give the farmer.*

Initiate a discussion of who will be responsible for providing the containers for the gleaned produce: Will they be provided by the farmer, or will they have to be brought in? What are the farmer’s concerns about having all these unknown people on the farm? Does the farmer have ground rules that need to be identified up front (such as no use of the restroom facilities or the telephone in the house; don’t drive vehicles in certain areas)?

It is important to remember that producers are professionals whose time and product are valuable. Neither should be wasted by promising to glean and then not showing up, or showing up at the wrong time or place, or showing up with the wrong type of gleaners (e.g. your children or grandchildren, when the producer specifically said no children.)

* Federal Public Law 104-210, The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. Contact your local library for United States Code 42 USC Sec. 1791, or see http://www.usda.gov/news/pubs/gleaning/appc.htm 

Maine Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 166, Immunity for certain food donations. Contact your local library for Maine Revised Statutes Annotated Title 14 Section 166, or see http://janus.state.me.us/legis/statutes/14/title14sec166.html  

Setting Up a Project

Here’s a step-by-step plan for a gleaning project.

What to Do: Advance Planning

  1. Set up a committee to plan and coordinate the activity. Assign a committee chair or coordinator.
  2. Develop a plan. Determine the scope of the activity so that you can plan your recruitment and promotion efforts.
  3. Identify local farmers and gardeners whose farm products can be gleaned. Make a list of these people, including their addresses and telephone numbers. Contact them and invite them to join you. Discuss the activity, describe the training volunteer gleaners will receive, and the benefits of participating. Get written permission to glean their fields, gardens, groves or orchards.
  4. Give out copies of a summary of state and federal “Good Samaritan Laws” (see box above or contact your county Extension office) to farmers and gardeners who will be participating.
  5. Make a list of the farmers and gardeners who will be a part of the project.
  6. Recruit. Contact local schools or the county Extension office to recruit school children or 4-Hers as gleaners, as well as assistants. Make a list of all the volunteers who will be helping collect produce.
  7. Set a date(s) for the gleaning activity.
  8. Contact food banks, homeless shelters or other local facilities to arrange for donations of fresh produce, and to schedule a delivery site and time.
  9. Contact local businesses and civic groups. Ask them for help in transporting the produce to food banks, providing harvesting tools, portable toilets, refreshments, etc. Get written commitments.
  10. Begin advertising the gleaning activity: prepare and distribute fliers, radio announcements and press releases announcing and promoting the gleaning activity to the community. Include dates, times and locations as well as any dates and times for “training sessions” with the farmers or volunteers. If necessary, translate the promotional materials into the languages of local ethnic groups to expand the outreach.
  11. Alert local civic groups, organizations representing local ethnic groups, and the religious community about the gleaning activity.
Ending Food Waste

Food recovery is one creative way to help reduce hunger in America. It supplements federal food assistance programs by making better use of a food source that already exists.

Up to 1/5 of America’s food goes to waste each year, with an estimated 130 pounds of food per person ending up in landfills. The annual value of this lost food is estimated at around $31 billion. But the real story is that roughly 49 million people could have been fed by those lost resources.

Source: “A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery,” USDA, April, 1997.

What to Do: One Week Before the Activity

  1. Prepare directions to the farms, gardens, groves and orchards. Prepare tip sheets about what to wear (for comfort, safety and protection), safe hand-harvesting techniques, and the kind of harvesting tools needed.
  2. Distribute tip sheets on clothing, harvesting tools, and directions to the gleaning site at your planning meeting. Discuss such issues as transportation (car pools or buses?) and contingency plans (what to do in case of bad weather or other unforeseen problems).
  3. Check with food banks to make sure that they will still accept the food to be gleaned. Confirm delivery sites and times.

What to Do: Day Before Activity

  1. Mark areas at the gleaning site where the volunteers may park.
  2. Prepare and put up signs showing the central meeting spot and directions to gleaning site.
  3. Have youth help set up collecting and rest areas:
  4. Notify media of the event if you want coverage.

What to Do: Day of the Activity

  1. Provide cold water and/or other hot or cold beverages and drinking cups.
  2. Ask gleaners to assemble at a central place at the farm or garden. Welcome the gleaners. (Involve the owner of the field and the activity coordinator.) Review safety, protection and comfort information. Have the farmer or owner lead a harvest training session. Distribute the containers and harvesting tools.
  3. Involve the media. Conduct interviews with volunteer gleaners, farmers and children. Photograph the volunteers as they pick produce.
  4. Have youth prepare the gleaned produce for distribution to the receiving organizations. Encourage volunteer gleaners to take some of the gleaned produce home for their own use.
  5. Load the produce into vehicles for transporting to the food banks, etc.
  6. Ask volunteers to help with clean up. Close the gleaning activity by thanking the volunteers and field owners.
Follow-Through Activities
  • Send gleaning day photographs to local newspapers. Include captions and a description of the activity.
  • Make telephone calls or send thank you letters and certificates of appreciation to farmers, gardeners, gleaners, people who delivered food, committee members, etc.
  • Contact food banks to learn how the food was used. Ask if they would participate in future community gleaning efforts.
  • Ask volunteers for their suggestions on future community gleaning efforts. Ask if they would participate in a future gleaning activity, and how they used any produce they received.
  • Help farmers and gardeners share their experience with county and state legislators and leaders from religious, civic and service communities.
From the Wholesaler to the Hungry

In 1987, Mickey Weiss, a retired produce wholesaler, was visiting his son at the Los Angeles Wholesale Market. He watched as a forklift hoisted 200 flats of ripe, red raspberries, raspberries that had not sold that day, and crushed them into a dumpster!

Weiss’ retirement didn’t last long. Working out of donated office space at the market, he enlisted student volunteers to call community kitchens, while he persuaded friends in the produce business to “put good food to good use.”

To make his dream a reality, he formed a team that included the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market and the Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture. Today, Mickey Weiss’ charitable distribution facility distributes more than two million pounds of produce a month throughout southern California.

In 1991, Susan Evans and Peter Clarke joined forces with Weiss. Wanting to replicate his concept nationwide, they designed a systematic consultation process to help cities begin their own fresh produce operations.

The project, From the Wholesaler to the Hungry (FWH), continues to help cities establish programs to channel large donations of fresh fruits and vegetables to community agencies. Adding fresh fruits and vegetables to the diets of low-income Americans improves their nutrition and their health, and helps prevent disease.

Source: “A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery,” USDA, April, 1997.

Food Recovery on the Internet

How You Can Help Recover Food

In today’s world, where so many wake up in poverty and go to sleep hungry, each of us must ask, “How can I help?”

To get involved, use the ideas in the Food for ME fact sheets or call “1-800-GLEAN-IT,” a toll-free hotline of the USDA and National Hunger Clearinghouse.


Prepared by Extension Educator Marjorie Hundhammer

Source: “Team Nutrition Community Nutrition Action Kit,” USDA, September, 1996.

For more information, contact your University of Maine Cooperative Extension county office.

Published and distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Land Grant University of the state of Maine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Cooperative Extension and other agencies of the U.S.D.A. provide equal opportunities in programs and employment.


Food for ME Fact Sheet Series
A Citizen Action Fact Sheet for Community Food Recovery
Series includes:


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