Dining Out

GleanSLO volunteers keep crops from going to waste

Cooperative effort between growers and volunteers gets fruits and vegetables to needy people before they can spoil

Special to The TribuneMarch 26, 2014 

  • Find out more

    For information about, or to sign up with, GleanSLO, go to their website, gleanslo.org.

    For more information about the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, go to slofoodbank.org.

This isn’t about dining out. It’s about GleanSLO, a local program that helps neighbors in need dine in.

Gleaning is an ancient concept that’s being reinvented for modern times. At its most basic definition, it means picking through a field after the main harvest.

Commercially, that might mean vegetables that were missed by machine harvesters or fruit that just isn’t aesthetically pleasing enough for the market, but it’s all perfectly good food that would otherwise just rot if it wasn’t gleaned.

This model can also work on a noncommercial level, as anyone who’s ever had too much zucchini, plums or eggs can attest. Most people hate seeing food go to waste, so they pass it along to family, friends or nonprofits that help feed those less fortunate.

This neighborhood model is how GleanSLO got its start.

According to the program’s website, “A small group from SLO Grown Kids started gleaning from local San Luis Obispo backyards in February 2010, using the name Backyard Harvest, collaborating with another local gleaning group located in Paso Robles.”

By the end of that year, a steering committee had been formed to take the project to the next level, and GleanSLO was launched in February 2011.

Operating under the auspices of the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, GleanSLO assumed the logistical task of coordinating willing farmers and homeowners with willing volunteer gleaners. Much of that is handled through an efficient website that manages both volunteer information and information specific to a particular glean.

This concept is one whose time has come. In its first year, GleanSLO harvested 37,988 pounds of food that would otherwise have gone to waste. In 2012, the number was 99,165; in 2013, it was 212,109; and almost 16,000 pounds have already been gleaned in 2014.

After harvesting, the produce is taken to the Food Bank’s warehouses and distributed. Recipients are either Food Bank clients (44,000 county residents, one in every six of your neighbors) or several local agencies (churches, Loaves and Fishes, etc.) who operate their own meal programs.

“The way I look at it, we’re matching up excess with need,” said program coordinator Jeanine Lacore, and that excess presents itself in many forms.

Commercial gleans have included a citrus grove, an avocado orchard and a corn field — even organic strawberries that would go to waste unless picked before an imminent rainstorm.

Backyard gleans are just as varied — ranging from a homeowner with just a couple prolific fruit trees to properties with a dozen trees.

Recently, GleanSLO also orchestrated its annual SLO Citywide Fruit Glean. Interested homeowners registered their properties via the website, and GleanSLO organized several teams of volunteers to pick the fruit (all citrus at this time of year).

Within four hours, they had harvested almost 1,800 pounds of fruit at 11 homes. Not a bad haul!

In addition to helping feed those in need, GleanSLO provides intangible benefits to its volunteers as well. Some people volunteer to keep active in retirement, others want to help their community, some want to engage in an activity that the whole family can enjoy together (though not all gleans are appropriate for all ages).

Whatever the reason, after volunteers have spent a couple hours picking strawberries, up on a ladder clipping pomegranates, or gleaning through a corn field, they definitely have a new appreciation of where their food comes from.

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero.

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