Fruit & vegetable gleaning initiatives

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 donation (USDA-Food recovery, CCFP-Owen 2011).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased consumption of healthy foods

  • Improved dietary habits

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Improved nutrition

  • Increased food security

  • Reduced emissions

Evidence of 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 incomes (USDA-Food recovery, , ). Such initiatives are also a suggested strategy to prevent childhood obesity by increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables (CCFP-Owen 2011). Gleaning initiatives may improve nutrition () and support community food security (Marshman 2019), although effects may be greater among larger scale or more intensive operations (). 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 programs (, ). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Every year, approximately 7% of planted fields in the US are not harvested, although this number varies widely, occasionally reaching as much as 50% for a particular crop (NRDC-Gunders 2012). Gleaning initiatives effectively harvest this produce; for example, in 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) gleaned 900,000 pounds for the Feds Feed Families Food Drive (USDA-Food recovery).

Gleaning initiatives reduce food waste, which contributes to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the production, processing, transportation, and disposal of food (FAO-Food waste, Hic 2016, CCAFS-Campbell 2012).

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 gathered (, Lee 2017d, ).

Impact on Disparities

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 country (CAFS-NGP).

A 2011 national survey of food banks reports 115 organizations with local agriculture programs, including 73 gleaning programs (). 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 DC (SOSA-Gleaning). 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 banks (CA AFB-Farm to family).

Statewide gleaning projects also glean millions of pounds of produce each year, for example, the Arkansas Gleaning Project (AHRA-AGP). Some states offer growers a tax credit for donations of excess produce to state-sponsored food banks, as in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Oregon (NRDC-Gunders 2012).

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 region (FRESHFARM-Gleaning). Many local gleaning initiatives glean thousands of pounds of produce, as in Humboldt County, CA (FFP-Gleaning). 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 Program (AAH-Gleaning).

Urban gleaning initiatives are underway in many cities, for example, San Francisco, CA (SF DPW-Urban harvesting); San Jose, CA (VH-Gleaning); Washington DC (DC Food-Glean); Springfield, MO (OFH-Glean team); Grand Rapids, MI (HGI-Gleaning); Salt Lake City, UT (SLC-FruitShare); and Portland, OR (PFTP-Harvest).

Implementation Resources

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

Northwest Harvest-Martin 2014 - Martin K, Morales T. Growing connections: A resource guide for farm-to-food bank strategies. Seattle: Northwest Harvest; 2014.

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.

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

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

USDA-Food recovery - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). US food waste challenge: Food recovery/donations.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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.

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.

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

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

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

FRESHFARM-Gleaning - FRESHFARM Markets. Our gleaning partners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date Last Updated

Aug 15, 2019