Gleaning is the practice of giving the poor access to grain fields after the harvest. Can this tradition, deeply embedded in the ancient agricultural world, be applied to today's hunger problems?
We don’t hear much about the practice of gleaning today.It is most commonly illustrated in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:2-23) from the Old Testament.
Early agricultural laws of the Hebrews supported the common practice; it was a punishable offense if one did not leave grains in the field to glean.
When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t reap the corners of your field or gather the gleanings. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners. I am God, your God. — Leviticus 23:22
And, it wasn't done only with grain, but with a variety of agricultural products, from fruit to olives to other crops. Whatever was left after the first harvest was for the poor and destitute to collect.
Considering the millions of hungry and food-insecure individuals globally, gleaning offers a local solution to hunger by addressing America’s food waste.
One major area of waste can be found in America’s farm fields, where crops that don’t meet grocery standards are left to rot or be plowed under. It could be that a green bean isn’t the exact length or shape it should be, or a delivery truck doesn’t have the right paperwork and the grocery store can’t accept the goods.
Organizations like the Society of St. Andrew’s (SOSA) Gleaning Network, they are able to coordinate volunteers, growers and distribution agencies to salvage this food for those most in need.
Each year, 35,000-40,000 volunteers — from churches, synagogues, scout troops, senior citizen groups and other organizations and corporations — glean with the Society of St. Andrew to pick up more than 20 million pounds of fresh, nutritious food for their hungry neighbors.
One of SOSA’s biggest projects is its annual potato drop. Millions of pounds of produce are salvaged from fields across the country and given to hungry families at no cost or to the food pantries and kitchens that feed them.
You can be a gleaner in your community, too! Gleaners are people of all ages and income levels who want to be a part of the solution to ending hunger. It’s such an organized system that within 48 hours of picking the produce, hungry Americans receive the gleaned food.
In our modern context, gleaning also can include the collection of food from supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the day.
What ways can you engage in the practice of gleaning in your community?
Sophia Agtarap is a transplant to the South from the west coast. Her background in education and digital media has helped her be a shepherd of sorts to digital immigrants, and she enjoys working with diverse groups to help them better understand today's communication tools and uses for ministry and outreach.