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Bulletin #4301, Food for Your Community: Gleaning and Sharing

Food for ME: Citizen Action for Community Food Recovery

Food for Your Community: Gleaning and Sharing

Originally prepared by Extension Educator Majorie Hundhammer. Revised and updated by Extension Educator Barbara Murphy.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
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It is estimated that between one quarter and one half of the food produced in the US is wasted. This translates to a loss of at least 160 billion pounds of food,1 some of which could be used to address hunger.

Gleaning—the act of gathering unwanted crops from farmers’ fields—is one tool that can be used to redirect unwanted crops to those in need.

Locating Farms for Donations

Gleaning requires a good deal of communication and cooperation between the grower and harvesters. The best way to find potential gleaning sites is to visit local farms and get to know the owners/growers. Take the time to thoroughly explain who you are and what you want to accomplish. Not all growers will be interested in having a gleaning team in their fields, or have the capacity to accommodate one.

Feeding Maine’s Hungry for 30 YearsIn 1981, JoAnn and Ray Pike saw a newspaper article about Harvesters Food Bank in Kansas City. Concerned about the amount of food being wasted locally, they requested information from the food bank and shared it with their prayer group. Good Shepherd Food-Bank was born, occupying space in the Pikes’ home and garage. Initial funding came from a walk-a-thon that raised $6,000.The food bank soon moved to a 3,000-square-foot space in the old Continental Mill in Lewiston. When the Pikes solicited donations from the Maine food industry, Burnham & Morrell (B&M Beans) and Snow’s Clam Chowder became their first donors. In 1983, Hannaford Brothers became a major donor, and over time they were joined by Walmart, Shaw’s, Barber Foods, Jordan Foods, Lepage Bakeries, SureWinner Foods, and many others.

To accommodate demand, the food bank increased its space to 7,000 square feet, then to 14,000, 21,000, 30,000 and 40,000 square feet. In July 2001, Good Shepherd Food-Bank moved into 53,000 square feet designed specifically for its operations, with a 12-trailer-truckload freezer capacity and five-truckload cooler capacity.

Thanks to a $250,000 donation from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, the food bank established a distribution warehouse in Brewer, which serves about 90 agencies in seven counties. In July 2010, Good Shepherd Food-Bank opened its 20,000 square foot Portland Warehouse and Distribution Center, which supplies food to more than 140 agencies in York and Cumberland counties. The Good Shepherd Food Bank has grown from its small beginnings into an organization that serves all of Maine.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from “Feeding Maine’s Hungry for 30 Years,” Good Shepherd Food-Bank, accessed March 31, 2011, http://gsfb.org/about_us/our_history.php.

Before You Contact Potential Donors

  1. Determine what your gleaning team is willing to do: Pick the produce from the fields? Pick up already harvested produce? Once? Weekly? Who will transport the produce? Choose someone to be the contact person for each event, who will act as the liaison between the farmer and the group.
  2. Contact local food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other agencies that might be interested in gleaned crops. Listen to their needs. What crops are especially useful? In what quantities? How do they want them delivered?

Communicating with Potential Donor Farms

Before asking 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 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 of 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, or no driving vehicles in certain areas)?

It is important to remember that producers are professionals whose time and products 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, if 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.

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.

Remember the following:

  • Make sure everyone has directions to the farm and group meeting location, as well as a contingency plan if the weather is poor. Remember to contact the farmer if the event is cancelled owing to bad weather!
  • Remind people to bring gardening tools, gloves, and water if needed.
  • The contact person should understand where the available crops are and how the grower wants them harvested and removed from the field.
  • Have a plan to deliver the produce to selected agencies.

1Jonathan Bloom, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010), xi–xii.


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1998, 2011
Published and distributed in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, by the University of Maine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Cooperative Extension and other agencies of the USDA provide equal opportunities in programs and employment.

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Image Description: volunteers gather produce from garden plot; photo by Edwin Remsberg, USDA


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