Some of you know what gleaning is and others will be scratching their heads “what is gleaning and why does it matter?” Allow me to enlighten you and perhaps, in the process, convince you to learn how to glean!
WHAT IS GLEANING?
Gleaning is a traditional skill that has been practiced for thousands of years. It consists of gathering produce after the rightful owner has harvested all he/she wants. While the principle usually applies to crops or produce, its also possible to ‘glean’ in the meat department as well!
Most of the time, gleaning requires nothing of yourself other than showing up, harvesting and taking food home to consume or preserve.
WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN HOW TO GLEAN
Apart from your time and the cost of fuel for travel, gleaning is free!
Not only this, but the majority of glean-able produce is spray free.
Why? Because most large, certified farms or orchards (those that must use spray due to mass crop production) won’t/can’t allow individuals to glean the leftovers.
Most often, the only food that is available for gleaning is grown in back yards, by barns or at the edge of farmer’s fields. In these places, nature is the only thing that has touched it.
To me, this is worth something!
ITS A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE FOR URBAN DWELLERS
Even if space is limited and you can’t grow fruit trees, berry bushes or a vegetable garden, gleaning opens the door to accessing fresh produce at the end of each season.
HOW TO FIND GLEANING OPPORTUNITIES
Advertise however you can! Put up flyers, post on a community facebook group or in a small, local paper. Don’t be afraid to inquire if neighbors appear to have extra.
When driving, look for produce that is falling to the ground, then stop and ask about harvesting. Put the word out that you are willing to glean and also clean up after.
DON’T BE ASHAMED TO GLEAN
Some folks squirm at the thought of gleaning. Asking for food? Won’t people think you’re in the poorhouse? Isn’t gleaning basically the same thing as…begging?
My theory is this: if you are neither beggar nor in the poorhouse, why play into that kind of thinking?
SPEAK THE TRUTH AND SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION
Be honest with others about why you are gleaning. Is it because you are trying to save money? Source spray-free food? Teach your children the value of gathering and preserving?
Show your appreciation to those who open their assets to you! Offer the owners some of the harvest and always leave things cleaner than you found them!
In my personal gleaning experiences, most people have been eager to interact. Some even come out to help! They want to know where I’m from. What I am going to do with the produce? Why do I glean?
One conversation leads to another and before I know it, I’m learning all kinds of things!
YOU’LL MAKE BENEFICIAL CONNECTIONS
The beautiful thing about gleaning is that you often make connections with people you never would have met otherwise.
And they? They often have connections to another source.
Through these folks, we’ve discovered more food sources, fresh pig fat for making tallow, a bird plucker for butchering day and even had an offer to join a small farm’s efforts in raising meat chickens!
Don’t underestimate the connections you make when gleaning!
THE CATCH WITH GLEANED PRODUCE
Wonderful as it is, there are a few catches with learning how to glean!
The first is this: a poor crop season=less available produce. You must be willing to roll with whatever the year brings. Sometimes you may get plums and other years, you’ll get none. This is the plight of gleaning!
Secondly, in times of plenty, you must learn to say ‘no!’ Everyone will be offering you their goods! And you? You can only use and put up so much before you’re maxed out! Remember this!
You also must be aware that gleaned produce is often slightly overripe and may not last long. Be sure to have a harvest plan for your goods!
Want to learn how to waterbath can? Go through my step by step tutorial!
GLEANING BIRDS FOR MEAT
Gleaning doesn’t stop with produce!
You can also learn how to glean chickens or other poultry.
Chickens are by far the most common! While many folks keep laying breeds for egg production, the birds’ productivity significantly decreases after year 3. Many want to get rid of their old hens before bringing in fresh, young layers and are happy to have you take them off their hands. Often, roosters are also available for free.
While these old birds will be tough, there are ways and methods of using the meat. In our home, we either pressure can or grind the meat.
Interested to learn? Here’s a tutorial on butchering and skinning old hens! After you’ve got that down, here’s part two, on how to pressure can these birds!
If you own a meat grinder or have a friend who does, you should know that old hens make a delicious chicken burger! After removing meat from the bones, it goes fast! Ground up chicken can be wrapped just like red meats.
If you are into traditional cooking, cast iron cookware or soap making, you know that animal fats can play an important role in the kitchen!
Know a friend who raise pigs or beef cattle? Ask about gleaning the excess fats!
Check with your local butcher shop in the fall. They may also have something to offer!
GET YOUR GLEANING ON!
There are many things you can glean. You need to discover what grows in abundance in your area and then put your ‘feelers’ out.
Learning how to glean is a way to connect with neighbors and like-minded people. And who doesn’t want to put good, spray-free food on the table while cutting back on the grocery bill?
I have been doing this for a few years. I put the offer out in our local gardening groups and am willing to help with yard work in exchange for veggies/fruits. We often get enough root vegetables to put quite a bit into storage, and tomatoes to make a few batches of sauce. Unfortunately, the farms around here don’t often let people come after the harvest to glean, but seeing all that fruit being ignored on the branches or falling to the ground saddens me. I need to try and make some new connections this year and take the kids along. They’d probably enjoy it.
Happy to hear from a fellow gleaner! 🙂 It’s truly amazing what you can harvest, isn’t it? I hear you in regards to good food falling to the ground. Seems like pointless waste, doesn’t it? Hope you have great results with your gleaning this year. Definitely try taking your kids! I have wonderful memories of gleaning alongside my mother and siblings. So much fun!