by BLAKE FARMER for NPR, January 20, 2011
On U.S. farms, gleaning is making a comeback, as a national anti-hunger organization has turned to the ancient practice to help feed the poor. And it also gives farmers a way to use produce that would otherwise be wasted.
In the Old Testament, farmers are told not to pick their fields and vineyards clean, but instead to leave the edges for orphans, widows and travelers. In the modern day, gleaning is more about preventing would-be waste.
Food gets left in the field for all kinds of reasons. Two big ones are that mechanical harvesting misses a lot — and sometimes the crops aren't pretty enough for supermarket shelves.
"The statistics are that 96 billion pounds of food are left — this is pre-consumer food — goes to waste in this country," says Linda Tozer of the Society of St. Andrew, an organization that coordinates farmers around the Southeast and out West.
And that food-waste estimate, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is going up, not down.
"What we are trying to do is build a network that will take food that would not make it to market for a variety of reasons," Tozer says, "and get it to agencies that are feeding the hungry."