Highly qualified, established food & lifestyle writer, former restaurateur, founder professional writing business, Articul8. Long, diverse writing history, passion for food culture, the land & inspired food language.
Published June 26th 2012
Gleaning. Most of us have heard the term, but probably not in relation to a new food trend. Loosely defined in foodie terms, gleaning refers to making the most of the excess produce grown in your local neighbourhood, whether by picking the enticing, dangling fruit that overhangs fences or lies on public land, or by actively sharing the fresh goodies people have grown an abundance of.
Of course, while gleaning is 'in', please know that the practice is as old as time itself. Our need to eat simply makes it so. In fact, in times gone by, gleaning was a form of social welfare for the poor, whereby farmers would intentionally leave parts of their fields unharvested. Ruth, a widow who gleaned to feed herself and her daughter, is the most famous biblical gleaner.
This is 'pick your own' as local as it gets. Gleaned fruit is divine, not only because it's just-picked and as fresh as can be, but also because of the experience once has in collecting it. It's loads of fun and very satisfying.
You can get friends and family involved. Kids especially love it, especially city kids, who will also learn more about food and its origins. Keep them entertained over the school holidays, and you can even make a game out of it for some school holiday fun.
So, while gleaning sounds simple enough, here are 10 Tips to super successful gleaning:
1) Firstly, don't be embarrassed. (A Mediterranean background comes in handy here.) There is no shame, you're doing the environment a favour by using up the excess, and it's legal if you stick to public land. If you're still embarrassed, go out in the early evening - or wear large sunglasses and a very large hat.
2) Know what's in season, so you know what to look out for. Winter mandarins, oranges, lemons and quinces are often plentiful, while stonefruit is the object of any serious summer gleaner, whether peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots or, later in the season, fleshy figs.
Fancy a Fig?
3) Start looking out for potentially productive trees when you're out walking. That way you'll know to look out for them when in season. Avid gleaners mark out productive, or potentially productive, trees on a map.
4) Proficient gleaners traverse other suburbs in their cars, just like those looking for discarded items on nature strips. Take someone with you so one can be the spotter and the other the driver.
5) Whenever you head out for a walk, talk a bag with you. It can come in very handy.
6) Look for fruit trees in parks, reserves, railways station car parks and the like, which are often lined with fences heavy with fruit.
7) If you're going on a long country drive, keep your eyes peeled for abundant fruit trees. Or, maybe head out simply for that purpose and make a day trip out of it. I once drove home with a car full of apples - and drank fresh apple juice for weeks. I also know someone who came home with a caravan-full of yummy chestnuts.
Chestnut Roasting Here We Come
8) If you see fruit that's being wasted in someone's front yard (how sad), it's okay to ask if you can have some. They'd probably be happy for you to clean it up for them.
9) The line between picking ripe and unripe fruit is a fine one. If it's not quite ripe and you leave it for another day, someone else might help themselves. Most fruit (not strawberries) will ripen if picked a little early.
Beautiful Blood Plums
10) If you've got productive trees at your place, or an abundance of veggies at any time, please don't waste the produce. Share with neighbours, op shops, and charities. They, and the environment, will thank you for it.
I gleaned one summer when I was at uni at St Lucia. I had a daughter to feed and not much income. Across the road, a high rise apartment block had bush lemons in their garden. There was a mulberry tree in the apartment block next door. A mango tree was growing on a vacant allotment. We survived.
But don't pick from community gardens, such as the Milson Garden in Milsons Park. People work very hard in there, and they are the ones who get the produce. It's so frustrating to watch, say, lemons ripening, only to arrive on gardening day to find people have pinched them during the week.
I advertise fee chokos on Freecycle and Gumtree and they are highly sought after. I grow waaay too many so feel good about giving them away. Check these sites for free produce too. I wish there was a central website that showed you where to glean in Sydney!
Am loving reading your articles; thanks!
Just noticed you have a reference to Ruth gleaning. There is an error there. Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, so Ruth gleaned for herself and her mother-in-law, not her daughter.
Off to read more!
Yes, this is a fantastic thing to do, even better when it's tinged with a touch of naughty. We pick not only the good stuff like lemons but also oft-overlooked goodies like lilly-pillies - the purple plump ones make delicious jam and can go into kids' lunch boxes to be eaten like miniature apples.
This is a great article Julie - thanks! We had an enormous mature fig tree in teh front yard at our holiday house which fruited abundantly twice a year. There is no way we could keep up to all that delicious fruit. We let it be known in the neighbourhood that people could help themselves - saved us a lot of cleaning up squishy, bird damaged fruit from our grass and gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure. As long as people ask, and don't just presume to help themselves, I think it a great way to go.
I found a place with free food.
Yesterday I visited my sister and went for a huge walk in UWS Richmond NSW campus and found the BIGGEST Mulberry tree ever, near the laundromat area in there if anyone wants to look. Then we found 4 citrus orchards laden with fruit, much of which is on the ground wasted. Grapefruit, mandarins and beautiful oranges, all in the Vines Dr area of the campus and adjacent to "The Secret Garden". My sister says to be careful as there are snakes and security guards.
What the author suggests here is actually illegal. Legally, fruit from a tree belongs to the owner of the tree, it doesn't matter where the fruit is hanging. To keep within the law, I suggest you ask the owner of the tree permission to take the fruit.