Want To Save Hundreds A Year On Groceries, Try Gleaning (Food Rescue)

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In a time when the economy is struggling and people are out of work we have to look at all options as being on the table when it comes to making sure people don’t go hungry. For all the power and prosperity that the U.S. has, we are still the country with the largest homeless population. The issue now though is that it’s not just the homeless that are having trouble getting a consistent meal, there are folks that have been hit hard by the recession who were once working class folks who now are having trouble making ends met. Nobody wants to have to choose between putting gas in their car and feeding their children, between keeping the heat on and keeping themselves fed. The thing I love about this country though is that in times of great struggle, Americans go back to the basics and we find a way. That is exactly what a growing number of people are doing by taking up an activity called food rescue, grocery recovery or even an old biblical term: gleaning.

While it is called many things, the act of rescuing food before it gets thrown away is becoming more popular than ever as a way to not only reduce waste but to feed all the people who have either fallen on hard times or even regular families who are simply looking for ways to make their money go further in this tough economic times. There are more than likely there are a few nonprofits in your area that practice gleaning. Every week places like grocery stores and bakeries simply throw away thousands of dollars worth of food. Gleaning helps feed people that might not otherwise eat by taking this food off of the company’s hands and it benefits the company because they don’t have to pay for garbage disposal. The first thing most folks ask is but isn’t this dangerous?

According to several experts, food expiration dates are often subjective. Just because something says “Please use by a certain date” doesn’t mean that if you consume that product a week after you’re going to get sick. In most cases it’s simply there to inform the consumer that the product will no longer be a optimum quality, cereal won’t be a crispy, yogurt might be more watery, etc. Most people would be surprised at the amount of produce for instance that just goes to waste. Organizations like Feeding America will rescue over 600 million pounds of produce this year that doesn’t get to market and they plan to be rescuing 1.5 billion pounds of food in the next five years. The reason that produce might not make it to market is that it has never been harvested and they simply left it to rot in the fields or it was harvested but then not brought to market because of oversupply.

While organizations like this are great, people all over the country are taking the issue into their own hands and starting their own gleaning organizations and you can too. People are building relationships with local grocery stores, restaurants, farmer’s markets and other events. That food is collected, sorted and then redistributed to those in need including women’s shelters, food banks and even local schools (a new bread program sends kids home with a loaf each day).

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Day Old Bread Is Still Pefectly Good

Not all of the food gleaned is salvageable and folks are quick to point out that they have spent many a long night sorting through boxes of rotten food trying to find food they could save. Once you start asking for stuff you never know what you might get but most places take in tons of breads, dairy, canned goods, produce and sometimes meat. It’s important to have a good communication network in place for the things that are really perishable of course so that you can get it out and someone can get it on their plates quickly. Canned goods are always a boon because most food banks can’t accept dented cans, but these organizations can since most of the time it’s perfectly good.

So how can you get started or find out more about gleaning? To join a gleaning group, you may have to do some legwork. Some good places to start are community message boards, food co-ops, churches and your local Cooperative Extension offices (especially those affiliated with local universities). You may also want to check out the USDA’s Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery and the EPA’s Food Donation: Feed. If you’re interested in starting a nonprofit gleaning group, you can read more about the Renton Community Co-op and its gleaning program here. Members of gleaning co-ops typically pay small annual fees, such as $30, to cover expenses and volunteer five to 15hours a month collecting and sorting food. The gleaned food is then divvied among the members (some for further distribution and some to keep).

Are you in a Glean or thinking about starting one, let us know what you think in the comments.

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