This blog is written by Holly Whitelaw from Gleaning Cornwall
Gleaning – Who should pay?
Modern day Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Farmers have to over produce in order to ensure they have enough and not all the crop will be ready for harvest at the same time. It is not an exact science after all and farm labour is expensive and often difficult to find. Gleaning is also the act of merely collecting crops that have been harvested but the farmer cannot easily sell because they’re too big, too small or have a small blemish.
We don’t know how much of this food does usually go to waste, or is rather used as organic matter for the soil or put into Anaerobic Digestion but it’s certainly a lot!
Historically Gleaning was one of humanities first forms of social welfare and is written about in the Bible. Who is to know if those wielding heavy scythes left more than usual grain unharvested, when they knew people were struggling nearby?
Gleaning used to be written into law as a right and with times being increasingly hard and a climate emergency upon us, we need to address this wastage urgently. All food waste is carbon wasted and we can not afford this any more.
With financial and other support from the Lottery and Feeding Britain, Gleaning Cornwall has managed to reduce farm food waste locally by around 70 tonnes since last August. Now established, they require around £10K to ‘save’ and redistribute around 40 tonnes of veg and fruit each quarter. That’s around £40K a year, for one county to pay 6 coordinators for their time, transport and other costs.
It’s expensive but there are so many benefits;
- Feeding fresh veg and fruit that is often missing from Supermarket donations to those in need.
- Offering those on the breadline fresh, seasonal produce that they might not ordinarily choose, eg beetroot and squash, which they then learn to enjoy.
- Giving volunteers an opportunity to come together, get fresh air, exercise and a chance to make a difference.
- Reducing food waste which is not only carbon but also all the greenhouse gases it took to produce it.
- Helping farms reach net zero.
Gleaning Cornwall reduces food miles by utilising transport that is already travelling that way but who should pay for gleaning?
Our farmers certainly can’t. According to Tim Lang, less than 10% of the money paid by consumers for food goes back to farmers. Also, as a nation, we pay the third least in the world for our food in relation to our income. A little can come from those able to afford gleaned Cornish Kimchi from Waitrose, for example but that leaves a massive gap to be filled. There is ample room for supermarkets to give even more money to charities who scrabble around for money as do gleaning groups. It is, after all, their waste we wish to deal with!
We certainly need to reduce waste throughout our supply chains but there will always be some and that needs to be managed and paid for better.
We could have;
- A Gleaning UK Network, acting as a secondary level of food production for delivery to foodbanks, community larders etc. This could be managed by or be distributed with the help of FareShare.
- Repurposing of excess gleaned food into healthy meals that can be microwaved by those who are struggling and don’t have a cooker.
- Funding through the selling of pickles, juices, jams etc using gleaned produce.
Please do get in touch through gleaningcornwall.org.uk and thank you for reading. (-: