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.
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.
Gleaning and food recovery systems
within the wider agricultural system are not yet widely practiced in Australia, as is the case in Europe and the US, as pointed out by Organic Food Directory
. However, there are some committed individuals and small groups involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs
. For instance, Transition Farm
grows an abundance of seasonal vegetables and fruit for the local community, providing them via a weekly vegetable box, which can be picked up or conveniently home delivered. Now, that's what I call a great idea.