Farmers across the UK often have no choice but to leave tonnes of their crops unharvested and get ploughed back in the soil. These crops cannot reach the market either because they fail to meet the retail strict cosmetic standards or because of overproduction. At the same time, 5.8 million people suffer from deep poverty in the UK and cannot afford a decent diet, and this number is on the rise.
Gleaning Network UK is an exciting new project that coordinates teams of volunteers, local farmers and food redistribution charities in order to salvage this fresh, nutritious food and direct it to those that need it most.
On 9th February 2013, our volunteers travelled to a farm in Kent to glean cabbages and cauliflowers.
We all soon got to work harvesting the delicious produce!
The farmer told us that they couldn’t sell the cabbages because some of their outer leaves had been pecked.
However, just pull off the outer leaves, and you were left with these tasty specimens!
They couldn’t sell the cauliflowers because they were “cracked”, which simply means that there are a few gaps between the sections of the cauliflower, and because there were some tiny spots on the outer leaves, pictured below. As you can see, the cauliflowers were perfectly fit to eat, and indeed delicious!
Everyone had great fun on the day, reclaiming these delicious characters from being wasted!
The food that goes to waste on farms is immense. The FAO estimates that in Europe, losses at farm level are roughly 20% for fruits and vegetables. In the UK, WRAP estimates that in the UK 5-25% of apples, 9-20% of onions, and 3-13% of potatoes are lost just due to grading. The Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and other research indicates that this could be even higher. The scale of losses induced by cosmetic standards was hinted at when during extreme UK weather conditions in the summer of 2012, supermarkets temporarily relaxed their standards under pressure from the National Farmers Union. This saved an estimated huge ‚Äú300,000 tonnes of produce‚ÄĚ, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
¬†¬†¬† Meanwhile, 5.8 million people live in deep poverty in the UK, and this figure on the rise. Food redistribution charities have been struggling to cope with the massively increased demands on their services. In 2011-12 foodbanks fed 128,687 people nationwide, and anticipate that this will rise to over 230,000 over 2012-13, with 250 foodbanks currently launched by the Trussel Trust alone. FareShare provides 8.6 million meals in 2012 for 36,500 people each day. But food redistribution charities like FareShare are desperate for more fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement the manufactured foods they have traditionally accessed.
All in all, we saved over two tonnes of produce from going to waste, and donated it via FareShare to a variety of charities dealing with food poverty.
This is just the beginning. The massive potential for gleaning in the UK is illustrated by the US, where extensive gleaning networks already exist; for example, the Society of St Andrews has saved more than 164 million pounds of food for America’s hungry since its inception in 1988, saved by over 400,000 volunteers. By 2010, it had a network of 900 growers and ran an average of more than eleven gleaning events, with 8-9 volunteers each every single day of the year, with overheads amounting to about two cents per serving.
That’s a lot of food!
Potatoes salvaged by Society of St. Andrews in the US.
Back in Kent, the cauliflowers field extended as far as the eye could see, and almost all the produce was going to waste. The one tonne of cauliflowers we managed to harvest was a tiny fraction of the total produce that would have been wasted on that one farm alone. We’ll be back soon to liberate the rest!
Join the Glean Revolution! If you’d like to join our next gleaning day, please email email@example.com
Likewise, if you’re a farmer who’d like to host a gleaning day, please get in touch!