Gleaning: Fresh Produce for Free!
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Harvest is really kicking off in our area. Apples are ripe and ready, sweet corn is at the end of its season and potatoes are being harvested. But what about those stray onions or apples you see? Collection of fruit or vegetables after harvest is called gleaning, and it is a great way to get produce for free.
In our area we are blessed to have a large variety of crops, one of the most recent crops we gleaned was shallots. This field had already been tilled, some of the shallots had gashes or cuts in them, so we had to be selective while collecting. As you can see in the first photo, there were plenty to choose from, so we also didn't take any that felt soft or were too small.
My 85 year old grandmother is in the third photo, she has been gleaning her entire life. It was much more common decades ago, as a way for the farm workers to collect the leftover harvests to feed their families. I've gleaned apples, pears, blueberries, potatoes, onions, and shallots.
So how can you glean in your area or an agricultural area near you? The most important part of gleaning is:
Make sure that you have permission from the farmer! It is illegal to take someone's crop, that is not what I'm suggesting, that is theft. But how can you get permission to glean? Talk to the field workers or orchardists, ask who owns the field, and go to the farm office. If you are looking for a specific crop ask your neighbors or talk to the employees at a local hardware store. This is a great opportunity to get to know the people in your area, locals are your best resource. Go into a coffee shop and talk to the farmers, most are willing to help.
After you've figured out who owns the field you're interested in, find out where the office is and contact the farmer. For this step I will say that sweetness goes a long way. Take them a few cookies or even a warm cup of coffee. Yes, the produce is most likely going to go to waste if you don't collect but farmers are extremely busy during harvest and offering a sweet treat or coffee will be greatly appreciated. The owners also want to be sure you will be respectful of their property while you are gleaning. If you are denied permission, don't be discouraged, ask another farmer! If you are in an agricultural area there are plenty to choose from.
Gleaning is done after the harvest is collected, so you may be asked to wait days or weeks later than you expect. Remember, you will be collecting fruit or veggies that were left behind after harvest. Sometimes this means that the produce is small or damaged, you'll have to be selective with collection. This wasn't a huge issue with the shallots but with past crops it has been more difficult to glean because there was less left behind. Every field and crop will be different, but that is what makes gleaning fun!
Once you've gained permission, gather the boxes and buckets that you will collect the produce in. We used amazon boxes, paper bags and 5 gallon buckets for our shallots. You want very sturdy vessels for collection, produce gets heavy fast! Make sure you park your car off the main road so you aren't blocking any of the trucks or tractors.
My finally recommendation for gleaning is not to take more than you or your family will use. Leave behind what you wont use for the next gleaners or for the animals. These shallots will last all winter and we use them as substitutions for onions in anything that is cooked. They are very strong so one smaller shallot can replace a large onion. My favorite way to use them is in soups or as a garnish after they are fried in a little avocado oil.
Have you ever gleaned? Did I leave any good tips out?
**If you don't have farms in your area, consider gleaning a neighbors garden. There may be an over abundance of cucumbers or tomatoes or even grapes in many or your neighbors gardens.