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The history of gleaning

Since 2012, Feedback has been running the Gleaning Network across five regions in England: Sussex, Kent, the North West, East England (Cambs, Lincs, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk) and West England (Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire). Hundreds of tonnes of fresh produce have so far been rescued from farms and redistributed to various charities across the UK, thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers.  Edible food waste on farms continues to be a largely hidden issue and there are gleaning opportunities all across the country that our existing network have yet to tap into. Therefore, this toolkit resource has allowed us to expand our network to help community groups and individuals run their own gleaning activities to make sure that uneaten produce can reach local communities.

Feedback is not the only group championing gleaning, there are established groups across the UK and beyond. Check our map for information on groups gleaning in England and to find out more information about how to set up your own activities. For further afield, gleaning groups in the USA can be found here.

Who are Feedback?

Feedback is a campaign group working to regenerate nature by transforming our food system. To do this we challenge power, catalyse action and empower people to achieve positive change.

Food production is the single greatest impact humans have on the environment. From mountains of food waste, to habitat destruction to clear land to grow animal feed for factory farms, to soil depletion leaving future harvests at risk: the food system needs to change. To read more about the work we do, please visit our website.

FAQs

What is gleaning?

Gleaning is an activity where volunteers connect with local farmers to harvest surplus fruits or vegetables that would otherwise not be sold or eaten for various reasons; from overproduction, to changes in supermarket orders, to arbitrary cosmetic standards. Community members volunteer their time to glean (harvest) the surplus produce, which can then be redistributed to various projects and organisations in the region.

What is community-led gleaning?

Community-led gleaning is a project being run by Feedback, a national environmental charity, on the back of our own gleaning activities that were started in Kent, Sussex, Bristol and the North West. Feedback are supporting community groups to start their own hubs so that it can become a UK-wide community practice. Our current aim with Feedback’s Gleaning Network is to truly turn it into a ‘network’ of community groups, farmers and beneficiaries who can all benefit from the practices of gleaning.

I am a farmer with surplus produce, how do I invite gleaners onto my farm?

If you are a farmer and have (or expect to have) surplus, please either check the gleaning map to contact local groups in your area, or contact ren@feedbackglobal.org at Feedback HQ who will point you to local gleaners.

Does my group need to be a formally-structured ‘organisation’ such as a registered charity?

In short, no. We are interested in working with groups, organisations, projects and enterprises of all shapes and sizes. The formal/legal structure of your group is at this point less important than your enthusiasm!

However, organisations with a recognised legal structure (such as charities, community interest companies, cooperatives, etc) may find it easier to make progress in some regards. For example, we recommend that all gleaning groups hold an insurance policy; also, many fundraising opportunities are not available to individuals or unincorporated groups.

Can gleaning projects be set-up in any location?

Gleaning can take place in any region where fruits or vegetables are grown on a commercial scale. Therefore this is the first consideration, or point of research, for any group interested in gleaning. How many orchards, fruit farms or vegetable growers are there within reasonable travel distance? What kinds of fruits and vegetables are being grown? What is the seasonality (harvest time) for those crops?

There is little to no commercial fruit and veg farming in my region – how can I still get involved in food rescue activities?

Although most of Feedback’s expertise lies in gleaning from commercial farms, it is possible to lead urban harvesting in towns, cities and other urban areas. These include, but are not limited to, harvesting fruit from public parks and resident’s gardens (with permission), small scale gleaning from community growing projects and city farms, and collection and distribution from wholesale markets and farmers’ markets.

Is there already a gleaning group in my area?

Have a look at our map on the homepage to see if gleaning is happening in your region. If you want to run your own gleaning in that region, it is worth reaching out to existing groups to make sure you work with different farms.

Other than access to farms, what are the main considerations for setting up a gleaning group?

You will need a team of willing and motivated volunteers to help with harvesting the food. You will also need a plan for how you will distribute or use the food that you recover: often this means working with other charities and groups (for example, charities providing cooked meals), or larger redistribution organisations (e.g. FareShare) able to distribute the food through their network.

How much time is required to run a gleaning project? Is this expected to be done on a voluntary basis, or is there funding available for paid staff?

Ultimately it is up to you and your group to decide how much time to commit to gleaning – there is no right or wrong answer. It’s also worth noting that the ‘scale of opportunity’ will be different in each region (e.g. according to how many growers there are), and may also vary season-to season.

As with many community projects, it is very possible to run gleaning on a voluntary basis, especially if there are several people in your group working together. Some groups may prefer to seek funding to pay for a part-time gleaning coordinator: Feedback cannot provide these funds, but we can offer support and advice to help you find and apply for funding.

Is gleaning a large-scale operation? Is my group too small to handle this?

Gleaning groups come in all shapes and sizes. Feedback operate at the larger end of the scale, and often harvest between 1 to 5 tonnes of fruits and vegetables (and sometimes more than 20 tonnes!). However, small is also beautiful – and “little and often” can be a good way to glean. One gleaning group in France makes weekly visits to a series of local farms, sometimes gleaning a few kilograms of salads. There is no one-size-fits all approach; each group operates according to their capacity.

Does my group need to own a vehicle – e.g. a car, van or truck?

Vehicles aren’t essential, but they can be useful for two reasons. Firstly, volunteers will need to travel to the farm; public transport is sometimes an option, but many farms are situated away from good transport routes. Therefore having one or more car-owners within your group or volunteer-pool will be helpful.

Secondly, you need to consider how the produce you glean will be transported from the farm to the organisation(s) who will use it. For smaller-scale gleans, it might be possible to move the produce using a van or a team of cars. For larger-scale gleans, there are organisations such as FareShare who can help with collecting and finding outlets for surplus produce.

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