frugal living

What is Food Gleaning and How Can it Lower Your Food Budget?

Food gleaning has been around for centuries but it is uncommonly heard in modern day America. Back in the early 1800’s farmers would allow the poor to come and take left over food that was going to go bad before it could sell. Thus the term gleaning came to be. In our modern day world gleaning still exists but in bigger form. Unfortunately, it is very uncommon for a person to not know what it means, but if they did they would likely take advantage of it.

food gleaning

According to the – gleaning is an old English word meaning to gather grain left behind by reapers. Another way to explain this term is a peasant picking leftover grain from a field that had recently been picked over by the harvesters. Essentially, it is the leftovers that no one wanted or did not get to. In today’s world there is a lot of opportunity for gleaning in many different forms. Today I am going to discuss only a couple of the well known ways a person participates in gleaning.

Gleaning Programs

Most communities in the United States will have some form of a gleaning program. Here in Vancouver, Washington, and Oregon there are gleaning programs all over the area. In Portland, Oregon green living is an essential part of life, and residents take pride in taking care of their community. As such, you are more likely to find gleaning programs. These types of programs work in two ways.

Membership fee: In this way you will pay a membership fee to be in the program. Think of this as a dues fee. The fees help the program organizer pay the cost of operating the program. Fees are essential to program success because there will need to be a facility to store all food, and staff or volunteers that need to be trained. So your fees help the program succeed, and it cannot function without the fee structure. That being said, the membership dues are relatively inexpensive. You can expect to pay roughly $10-20 a month.

Volunteer work: Instead of paying a fee you volunteer your time at the program location, farm, or another place of operation. A lot of times members end up wanting to volunteer even though they pay a membership fee.

What you get in return: lots of food. It might be farm produce or store leftovers close to expiration. Typically you can expect a little of everything, including some meat, dairy, and lots of perishable products.

Community Gardens

Every year I grow a vegetable garden at a local community garden program. At the end of the season gardeners have to harvest their product before the plowers come, and if they don’t the harvest is free to whoever wants to come take it. This is an excellent way to get free produce since a lot of gardeners will also share their bounty with you towards the end of the season. Some gardens end up abandoned, and at the end of the season there is a harvest to be picked. I often barter with neighboring gardeners if I have extra vegetables, and  since I prefer to grow heirloom varieties a lot of my neighbors are more than willing to trade for my goodies.


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