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Picking up leftovers from farmers: a gleaning guide

Written on 4 March 2021 · 3 mins, 54 secs


Although farmers invest a lot of time and energy in growing their produce, after harvest much of the edible fruit and vegetables remain on the plant or in the ground. A shame, right?
One solution to this waste is 'gleaning'. This is an activity in which volunteers - with the farmer's permission - harvest the remaining fruit and vegetables themselves. They often donate these surpluses to social organisations, such as a food bank. 

The farmers often have little choice: to be able to sell their products at a realistic price, the fruit and vegetables must first of all meet cosmetic standards and not be oversupplied. If the farmer were to harvest all unsellable produce himself, he would undoubtedly make a loss. As a result, the misshapen and superfluous vitamin bombs often do not get any further than the field, where they are eventually dug up again.

Especially abroad, gleaning has been on the rise for years. Some good examples are The Gleaning Network in the United Kingdom and the Espigoladors that are active in Catalonia.

The gleaning network in Belgium is less active, but there are already some organisations organising harvest actions (see below). For example, FoodWIN organised Juice For Change in 2016, where volunteers picked 7 tons of apples and pressed 4500 litres of apple juice from them that would otherwise have remained on the tree to rot.

Something for you?

This guide tells you how you can get involved as a volunteer, farmer or social organisation to give non-harvested fruit and vegetables a better life.

For volunteers

As a leftover picker you make a social difference during a fun and social outdoor activity. The ultimate combination right?

In order to collect leftovers, it is best to keep an eye on organisations that organise such harvest actions, here are some examples:

Other organisations or companies also organise their own gleaning action from time to time.Of course, nothing can stop you from asking the local farmer if he has any surpluses that you can come and harvest yourself!

Practical information

  • A gleaning activity takes between 1 and 5 hours
  • Wear warm clothes, because you are outside and it can be cold.
  • Wear good shoes or rain boots so that you can tackle the sometimes slightly muddy fields.
  • Don't forget gloves and equipment for easy harvesting. If you go with an organisation, this is often provided, but it is best to ask.

! Let wel op: Ten gevolge van het coronavirus zijn dergelijke acties in 2020 in het algemeen afgelast !

For farmers

By receiving volunteers to collect leftovers, you save a part of the harvest that would normally be lost. Moreover, you give the volunteers the opportunity to learn more about your business, you prevent waste and you provide a fun and educational experience for the volunteers.

Will you be paid for your harvest?

  • That depends on where the harvest is going.
  • Do you want the harvest to go to social organisations that redistribute the saved products to vulnerable groups? Then there is usually no compensation.
  • The harvest that is saved can also be used for fundraising, for example, a soup campaign organised by the local youth movement. Part of the proceeds can be used as compensation for you. This requires clear agreements beforehand.
  • You can also make an appeal to come and harvest for a fixed fee. You can, for instance, let people harvest as much as they like for a fixed price, for example 5 or 10 euros, per weight or not.

What about liability?

Usually, the organisers of the harvest actions have civil liability insurance. As a farmer, you need not worry about this. In advance it is best to draw up an agreement for volunteers about food safety, tools, where they may and may not go on the field and other safety considerations.

For sociale organisations

Picking up leftovers is the best way to get fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the farmer and thus prevent waste.

There can be hundreds to thousands of kilos of food involved, so make clear arrangements with your volunteers about your capacity, storage options, and clientele.

Be sure to discuss the following practical details:

Who will transport the harvest from the farmer to the storage facility? Does the organisation have its own truck or are volunteers responsible for their own transport?

  • Be clear about the day and time the harvest is received and transported.
  • Fruit and vegetables are usually stored and transported in crates. So agree whether the volunteers can use your crates or how they should return them.

That's gleaning in a nutshell. Have fun collecting leftovers!

Want to know more?

The Gleaning Toolkit