Last year, GleanKY excitedly attended the inaugural International Gleaners Symposium in Salt Lake City. We came back from that conference inspired and reassured that we’re not alone in this work. Last week, we met with our gleaner friends from around the country (and Canada) last weekend in Atlanta to once again inspire and learn from one another.
About 16 organizations were represented at the 2nd annual symposium. Some, like the Society of St. Andrew, have nearly 40 years of gleaning experience under their belt and glean in a dozen states, while others – actually, most – were more recently formed and are more locally-based. No matter where we are – geographically or developmentally – it was clear that this is a growing movement. We have some brilliant folks working in this field, and we all had ideas that we could share with the others.
Gleaning, as we found out, can mean different things to folks. Some groups mostly forage from urban fruit trees in backyards and parks. Others harvest the fields of commercial farms, or pick up unsold produce from farmers markets, grocery stores, produce auctions, and more. It’s truly amazing to see all the creative ways folks strive to prevent food waste.
One fascinating conversation we had as a group involved the myriad ways we talk about our work. At GleanKY, we usually talk about the impact of gleaning in terms of food waste and hunger, but as we found out, there are a thousand and one reasons to glean that we don’t often consider. Some glean because of their faith (gleaning is traditionally rooted in the Bible after all), or to address climate change (research shows reducing food waste is among the most effective solutions), to support good nutrition in our communities, or to educate our children (and adults for that matter) about nature and where food comes from. In some places, gleaning is even an important way to keep wildlife like bears from going places where they ought not to be. We don’t have to compete with bears for our produce around here, but it goes to show that every community faces its own unique challenges.
Ultimately with the work that we are doing, we want not just to build our organizations, but to build a movement. We are GleanKY, but it’s heartening to know that we’re part of something larger – let’s call it GleanEarth.