The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that almost 15 percent of Americans are at risk of going hungry. At the same time, 30-40 percent of all food produced in the United States is thrown away. That’s insane!
Gleaning — the practice of harvesting leftover produce from a farm or garden that would otherwise go to waste and donating it to a charitable organization — provides nutritious food to those in need and prevents food wastage.
Gleaning has other benefits. Gleaning helps control garden pests. Certain insects and fungi overwinter in fruit or vegetables left on the vine or ground at the end of the growing season.
Gleaning eliminates reservoirs for these pests, resulting in a healthier garden and better harvest next year.
Gleaning provides an opportunity for the gleaner to try fruits and vegetables that grow locally. Gleaners get to sample different varieties of standard produce such as apples, pears and plums as well as more unusual produce like figs, mulberries, goumi berries, elderberries, hazelnuts and quinces.
Gleaning also builds a sense of community. Coming together to help those in need and being there for each other is good for our community.
The WSU Extension Office in Port Angeles supports an organized gleaning program. Sharah Truett is the current coordinator of “Clallam Gleaners.” Sharah, also known as the Glean Queen, works hard to identify gleaning opportunities across the county and is known for having tried-and-true recipes for just about every kind of produce you can imagine.
Most fruits and vegetables harvested by Clallam Gleaners are donated to organizations that provide services to those who lack a reliable source of nutritious food including the local food banks, senior centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, schools and homeless shelters. Gleaners can keep a portion of the harvest for themselves.
In a typical year, Clallam Gleaners harvest 20,000-30,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables. So far in 2022, however, less than 1,000 pounds of produce have been harvested for distribution to low-income families.
What can you do to help?
Become a gleaner! Most Clallam County gleans are done by individual volunteers who harvest produce from a homeowner’s garden or yard by themselves.
The program essentially acts as a “matchmaking service” between homeowners who have produce and gleaners who want to pick it. Volunteers learn about gleaning opportunities through an online portal. Assignments are made on a first come/first serve basis. Once selected, the volunteer works with the homeowner to determine if special equipment (e.g., a ladder) is needed and schedule a date and time to harvest the crop.
The gleaner gets to decide where the produce is donated and delivers the produce to the recipient, keeping up to 50 percent of the harvest for themselves or to share with family or friends.
To learn more about becoming a gleaner, go to clallamgleaners.org.
You can also help by allowing gleaners to harvest leftover produce from your garden, orchard or berry patch. Although many local fruit trees did not produce well this year because of late frosts and poor pollinator activity, many trees are still loaded with fruit that is not being picked.
If you have grown more produce than you can use, consider letting a gleaner harvest it. Donated produce should be ripe but not overripe and have minimal insect damage. The harvest should be big enough to make it worth the gleaner’s gas money to drive to the site — at least one to two bags of good quality fruits or vegetables. Due to sanitation standards, gleaners are not allowed to collect ground fall produce.
If Clallam Gleaners have harvested from your property before, you are already in their system.
Call the gleaning coordinator, Sharah Truett, at 360-565-2619 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org a couple of days before your crop is at its peak of ripeness so that arrangements can be made to harvest it in a timely fashion.
If Clallam Gleaners have never harvested on your property before, sign up to donate your crop at clallamgleaners.org/donatecrop.php.
If you want to bypass the gleaning program, you can also deliver good quality produce from your own garden or yard directly to local food banks. Just don’t let that produce go to waste with so many in need.
Sharah Truett coordinates Clallam Gleaners and Jeanette Stehr-Green is a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener.
Learn about forest health
Make sure to join us for the upcoming Green Thumb presentation “Western Washington Forest Health” presented by Rachel Brooks, a Washington Department of Natural Resources forest pathologist, from noon-1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, via Zoom. Join by clicking on the link at extension.wsu.edu/clallam/master-gardener-calendar. Or, join by phone by calling 253-215-8782 (meeting ID 920 0799 1742, passcode 709395).
Brooks provides technical assistance to landowners, helps monitor the state for tree diseases and pests, conducts research, and assists with educational events. She earned a doctorate in plant pathology from Virginia Tech where she studied biological control options for an invasive tree (Ailanthus altissima) and taught forest pathology. Rachel will talk about root rot diseases, bark beetle outbreaks and weather stressors like drought.
Presentations cover basic gardening topics relevant to most home gardeners. Seminars are free, but donations to help support the WSU Clallam County Extension Master Gardener program or Master Gardener Foundation of Clallam County are appreciated.