Fruit & vegetable gleaning initiatives

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Fruit and vegetable gleaning or field gleaning initiatives gather food left in fields after the primary harvest or food in fields where harvesting is not profitable. These initiatives can also collect food after farmers’ markets or farm stands close, or excess produce from farms, orchards, or packing houses. Urban gleaning or urban harvesting initiatives gather excess produce from registered fruit trees, community, school, and backyard gardens, or other urban agriculture sites. Most gleaning initiatives rely on volunteers to harvest, pick up, sort, and deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks, food pantries, churches, mobile food pantries, and other community organizations that help distribute the produce to families with low incomes. Some participating farms use cull bins while harvesting to set aside non-marketable produce for donation1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased consumption of healthy foods

  • Improved dietary habits

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Improved nutrition

  • Increased food security

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Fruit and vegetable gleaning initiatives are a suggested strategy to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and improve eating habits, especially for families with low incomes1, 3, 4. Such initiatives are also a suggested strategy to prevent childhood obesity by increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables2. Gleaning initiatives may improve nutrition3 and support community food security5, although effects may be greater among larger scale or more intensive operations6. Food banks, food pantries, and meal programs can use fruit and vegetable gleaning initiatives to source and distribute fresh produce, which is a suggested strategy to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition among individuals and families receiving food assistance from food pantries and meal programs7, 8. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Every year, approximately 7% of planted fields in the U.S. are not harvested, although this number varies widely, occasionally reaching as much as 50% for a particular crop9.

Gleaning initiatives reduce food waste, which contributes to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the production, processing, transportation, and disposal of food10, 11, 12.

Successful gleaning programs face several operational challenges, especially volunteer coordination and donated produce procurement and distribution. Several studies suggest methods to optimize gleaning schedules and maximize the volume of produce gathered7, 13, 14.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

The National Gleaning Project provides information on national and state laws and regulations pertaining to gleaning and food donation, an interactive map of gleaning and fresh food recovery organizations, and gleaning and food recovery reports and materials to support organizing and implementing gleaning programs across the country15.

A 2011 national survey of food banks reports 115 organizations with local agriculture programs, including 73 gleaning programs6. The Society of St. Andrew Gleaning Network, for example, gleans 15 to 20 million pounds of food annually and distributes gleaned produce in the contiguous 48 states and Washington, D.C.16. The California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program is the largest gleaning program in the nation; it distributes over 160 million pounds of produce annually to over 40 food banks17.

Statewide gleaning projects also glean millions of pounds of produce each year, for example, the Arkansas Gleaning Project18. Some states offer growers a tax credit for donations of excess produce to state-sponsored food banks, as in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Oregon9.

Regional non-profit organizations can run gleaning programs with food banks, churches, and other community partners. One example of such a partnership is FRESHFARM Markets which gleans throughout the Chesapeake Bay region19. Many local gleaning initiatives glean thousands of pounds of produce, as in Humboldt County, CA20. Gleaning initiatives can also supply fresh produce to schools in low income areas; for example, Ag Against Hunger supplies leafy greens and fresh fruit for school salad bars via the More Produce in Schools Program21.

Urban gleaning initiatives are underway in many cities, for example, San Francisco, CA22; San Jose, CA23; Washington, D.C.24; Springfield, MO25; Grand Rapids, MI26; Salt Lake City, UT27; and Portland, OR28.

Implementation Resources

USDA-Gleaning toolkit - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Let's glean! United we serve toolkit.

CAFS-NGP - Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). National Gleaning Project (NGP): Legal & policy resources, gleaning map, NGP reports & research. Vermont Law School, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Agricultural Library.

UFF-Urban gleaning - Urban Food Forestry (UFF). Urban food forestry initiatives: Archive for urban gleaning and free resources.

Garden Gleaning-Toolkit - The Garden Gleaning Project. Garden gleaning: A toolkit for growers and food shelves.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 Beyranevand 2017 - Beyranevand L, Leasure-Earnhardt A, Scrufari C. Models for success: A set of case studies examining gleaning efforts across the United States. Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School. 2017.

2 CCFP-Owen 2011 - Owen J, Rosch J, Smith S. Preventing childhood obesity: Policy and practice strategies for North Carolina. Durham, NC: Center for Child & Family Policy (CCFP), Duke University; 2011.

3 Hampl 2005 - Hampl JS, Levinson SL, Garcia LW, Johnston CS. Project GLEAN: Evaluation of a school-based, gleaned-food distribution project. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. 2005;25(2):5-15.

4 Hoisington 2001 - Hoisington A, Butkus SN, Garrett S, Beerman K. Field gleaning as a tool for addressing food security at the local level: Case study. Journal of Nutrition Education. 2001;33(1):43-48.

5 Marshman 2019 - Marshman J, Scott S. Gleaning in the 21st century: Urban food recovery and community food security in Ontario, Canada. Canadian Food Studies. 2019;6(1):100-119.

6 Vitiello 2014 - Vitiello D, Grisso JA, Whiteside KL, Fischman R. From commodity surplus to food justice: Food banks and local agriculture in the United States. Agriculture and Human Values. 2014.

7 Sonmez 2016 - Sonmez E, Lee D, Gomez MI, et al. Improving food bank gleaning operations: An application in New York State. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 2016;98(2):549-563.

8 Sisson 2016 - Sisson LG. Food recovery program at farmers’ markets increases access to fresh fruits and vegetables for food insecure individuals. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2016;11(3):337-339.

9 NRDC-Gunders 2012 - Gunders D. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. New York City: National Resources Defense Council; 2012.

10 FAO-Food waste - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Food wastage footprint & climate change.

11 Hic 2016 - Hic C, Pradhan P, Rybski D, Kropp JP. Food surplus and its climate burdens. Environmental Science and Technology. 2016;50(8):4269-4277.

12 CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

13 Ata 2019 - Ata B, Lee D, Sonmez E. Dynamic volunteer staffing in multicrop gleaning operations. Operations Research. 2019;67(2):295-597.

14 Lee 2017d - Lee D, Sonmez E, Gomez MI, et al. Combining two wrongs to make two rights: Mitigating food insecurity and food waste through gleaning operations. Food Policy. 2017;68:40-52.

15 CAFS-NGP - Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). National Gleaning Project (NGP): Legal & policy resources, gleaning map, NGP reports & research. Vermont Law School, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Agricultural Library.

16 SOSA-Gleaning - Society of St. Andrew (SOSA). The gleaning network: Gleaning America's fields feeding America's hungry.

17 CA AFB-Farm to family - California Association of Food Banks (CA AFB). Farm to family: Alleviating hunger and improving nutrition.

18 AHRA-AGP - Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance (AHRA). Arkansas gleaning project (AGP).

19 FRESHFARM-Gleaning - FRESHFARM Markets. Our gleaning partners.

20 FFP-Gleaning - Food for People (FFP). The food bank for Humboldt County: Gleaning program.

21 AAH-Gleaning - Ag Against Hunger (AAH). Agricultural community feeds the hungry through gleaning and harvesting.

22 SF DPW-Urban harvesting - San Francisco Department of Public Works (SF DPW). Urban harvesting program: Gather and give back to the community.

23 VH-Gleaning - Village Harvest (VH). Sharing our gardens, gleaning, and teaching to strengthen our community.

24 DC Food-Glean - DC Food Recovery Working Group. Glean: Organizations to glean with & where to buy gleaned food.

25 OFH-Glean team - Ozarks Food Harvest (OFH). New 'Glean Team' part of OFH's goal to distribute more healthy food to area pantries.

26 HGI-Gleaning - Heartside Gleaning Initiative (HGI). Gleaning in the Heartside neighborhood Grand Rapids, Michigan.

27 SLC-FruitShare - Salt Lake City Sustainability (SLC). SLC FruitShare.

28 PFTP-Harvest - Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP). Share in the harvest: Harvest programs.