Waste Not Want Not

Meet the Eugene Area Gleaners

“A ‘gleaner’ is traditionally someone who collects leftover crops after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest,” says Brandy Collier, president of the local chapter of the Eugene Area Gleaners. 

“Today, a gleaner is someone who collects excess fresh foods from a variety of sources in order to provide it to those in need,” Collier says. 

Eugene Area Gleaners is run by dedicated volunteers seeking to connect hungry people with available food while reducing local food waste. The organization has an expanding roster of donors, both farmers and private property owners, who request gleaners to pick their extra produce.

“These gleans happen at all times of the year, but mostly during mid to late summer and early fall,” Collier says. “During this time, we can become extremely busy with gleans happening at all times — and all days of the week.”

Volunteers are trained on proper harvesting techniques by on-site “glean leaders.” 

“Unripe fruit may be picked at donor’s discretion,” Collier says. “Gleaned produce is split 50/50 with the donor, who may request that their part of the good, usable produce be donated to FOOD for Lane County. The remaining produce is divided between the volunteers.”

In exchange for some free labor, gleaners go home with food to enjoy and preserve. And by donating a portion of gleans to local food banks, they help ensure that fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables end up on the plates of those most in need. 

Historically, Collier says, the notion of gleaning is as old as Western civilization itself. “Gleaning was mentioned in the Bible, so it’s very, very old,” she says. 

So how does one become a gleaner? 

“We always need volunteers,” Collier says. “It’s such a shame to see how much produce goes wasted and rots in someone’s yard or on a street when we have kids and entire families going hungry.” 

Collier says gleaning helps owners who have a surplus, either saving them the trip to donate it or saving them the cleanup. 

“And it helps people who need a little extra to get through the month,” Collier says. “Food stamps sure don’t go as far as they used to.”  

Collier says that by carefully collecting and preserving the bounty that surrounds us, she and her fellow gleaners alleviate some of the strain on already thin emergency food resources. 

“Many of our members know how to can and have been teaching each other,” Collier says. 

In an age of convenience, the Gleaners are remembering long-forgotten skills, ones our grandparents’ generation probably couldn’t imagine living without.  

“We’re relearning ‘lost’ — or less-popular — food security arts,” Collier says. 

Collier has been running the local gleaners group since 2009; it incorporated as a nonprofit last year. 

“If you want to join, just head to our website and sign up. There are no requirements except to follow the rules.”

Rule No. 1 — and there are just six of them — is “Be reliable and on time.” 

“I didn’t even know what gleaning was before we started the group, let alone how many groups there are nationwide!” Collier says. 

For more information about the Eugene Area Gleaners, please visit eugeneareagleaners.wordpress.com.  This is the third in a three-part series on how local nonprofits are helping neighbors cope with food insecurity.