Ancient Practices bring Food Security to the NEK

by Thorolf van Walsum
“The Gleaners” by Jean-Francois Millet

MORRISVILLE – Salvation Farms, a Morrisville-based not-for-profit organization, is looking to tackle food insecurity in the Northeast Kingdom.

This week, Hillary Bailey, the Clearinghouse Director for Salvation Farms, took time to answer some questions with the Hardwick Gazette on the practice of gleaning; that is, collecting leftover agricultural produce after the harvest to redistribute to the hungry and to the volunteers that show up to the glean. 

“The Vermont Gleaning Collective is a statewide collaborative of gleaning programs of which Salvation farms is a proud member. We glean from and work with farmers to get their surplus food off of the farm and onto the plates of people who need it.” 

Gleaning has been a part of Western culture, with roots going back all the way to the Bible. In Leviticus 19, the Bible says “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.” For almost as long as European civilization has existed, the right of the poor to glean has been defended by faith and law. 

While the benefit of gleaning is obvious when it comes to feeding the food-insecure and nutritionally disadvantaged, it doesn’t immediately make sense why a farmer would allow their crops to be gleaned rather than harvested and sold or composted. Hillary explains:

“There can be many obstacles when it comes to harvesting, from shifts in market demand to lack of hands on the farm. Gleaning is a way to ensure that the food makes it to the people who need it. Gleaning is also a service to the farmer; some great examples are blueberries and strawberries. When we glean at the end of the season for these fruits, our last harvests encourage the plants to produce more next food to ensure their survival. This means more potential business for the farmer. Plus, who would choose to compost food that could feed their food insecure neighbors?”

Bailey was emphatic that the both the value and the experience of gleaning was deeply community-based. “Gleaning has many impacts on the community. Through our gleaning programs, as well as our other programs, we connect people with the farmers in their communities that grow the food on their plates. This creates an opportunity for experiential education. We strive to connect farmers with their neighbors, because the strength and success of our close-knit communities depends on our farms. That connection encourages people to support their neighbors, the farmers in their community.”

Gleaning is a useful community service, but doesn’t the onset of winter throw a wrench in the practice? Bailey has better news than you might expect. “Winter just means a shift in how we glean. We’ll be working with storage crops through the winter and will shift into the high tunnels and greenhouses as we move back into Spring next year.”

Gleaning, a community-giving practice as old as civilization as itself, is a way to both give to the needy and find fresh, healthy food if you are need food for yourself. Yet Bailey never let the Gazette forget that Salvation Farms was engaged with much more than just gleaning. “Gleaning really is only a part of what we do at Salvation Farms! As a whole, we are an agricultural surplus management organization, and our efforts range from gleaning to brokering and minimally processing produce. All of our volunteer opportunities, whether gleaning, processing or helping out with administrative tasks, are opportunities to learn about, engage with, and contribute to a more sustainable food system in our state.”Volunteering opportunities for groups and individuals can be found at SalvationFarms.org/get-involved/#volunteer. For people interested exclusively in gleaning, visit the VermontGleaningCollective.org.