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ELCA World Hunger

Not trash, but dinner

“All those delicious Brussels sprouts, rotting!” I griped to my brother about a neighbor’s garden.

He shrugged and said, “Get used to it.”

In rural western Washington, not everything gets harvested. Something is always left over. There may be no time to cut something or no place to store it. Too much or too little rain. Too many or too few warm dry days. Nobody to pick. Or nobody to buy, if a crop tastes good but looks horrible, or because the same crop ripened elsewhere first—like potatoes in Idaho, this year—and the supermarket buyers have already filled their contracts.

So I’m glad the word gleaning has busted out of the Bible color plate of Ruth in Boaz’s field and is elbowing its way into national consciousness.  When I promised my mother in March  that the fruit trees on our farm wouldn’t just rot on the ground, I didn’t know I’d discover a national movement to connect what’s left in fields with food pantries and soup kitchens. After I tracked down Harvest for Hope of Skagit, which organizes and dispatches gleaners in our valley, I read Nancy Michaelis’s blog about Ample Harvest, matching gardeners and food banks on the national level.

Not the image I remember, but the right gleaning story!

This fall I’ve been living by Ample Harvest’s slogan: “No food left behind!” On a bike errand, I stopped to pick a bag of carrots declared too homely to sell by their growers. Every couple of days I help myself to zinnias and sunflowers whose flower farmer stopped cutting and told me, “Enjoy!” Gleaning for Harvest for Hope, I made new friends and froze a fall of beans for me. Harvest for Hope accepted the 12 pounds of beans I gleaned from my landlady’s garden and will accept the last of the apples from our family tree. (Thank goodness, because apples are the zucchini of Washington state: so plentiful you can’t give them away.)

At one end of this gleaning stand the field, the farmer, and the willing volunteer. At the other end must be cooks and canners—people who can prepare and preserve food—as well as food pantries with freezers, refrigerators, and efficient distribution systems. Without this important element, the beans I glean in Mt. Vernon will rot somewhere else. Fortunately a couple of activists helped persuade US food pantries to retool themselves to accept and distribute fresh produce. Goodbye, commodity cheese. Hello, beets and carrots.

“Canning is the new knitting,” someone said recently. And just in time, because almost everybody has forgotten how. Food preservation classes are popping up everywhere as people like me decide to recover the lost skills of freezing, canning and dehydrating. Or how to use every single scrap of a vegetable, as the New York Times feature  “That’s not trash, that’s dinner!” demonstrates.

Now if only I can convince my neighbor to let me glean her Brussels sprouts…

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity


Getting into recovery

Now that I’m living down the road from the family farm, asked my mom in a phone call today, could I please do something about the fruit trees? Prune them, care for them, harvest them? Clear the weeds away from the overgrown lingonberries and blueberries? And line up some kind of charity for the unused fruit, since that’s not the tenants’ job?

I hadn’t realized that these trees and bushes had been neglected. Which got me thinking about food waste.

“Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption,” says journalist Jonathan Bloom. “That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. At the same time, food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continues to rise.”

Bloom’s website and blog,, and his new book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half its Food (and What We Can Do About It) detail the problem and lift up emerging solutions.  Like the dining hall trays temporarily or permanently banished by colleges like Luther and Wartburg. Like links to fact sheets that help stores and restaurants give away food safely. And lists of food recovery groups that are trying to connect wasted abundance with real need. (How are you doing on that Lenten meal of scavenged or recovered food that I suggested in my last post?)

My family’s fruit trees should be feeding more than the birds. Tending them, making  pies and jam, and sharing their harvest are small steps away from our culture’s “take-make-waste” paradigm (as Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff calls it).  But I’m always looking for new ways to do that. So sure, mom. I’m on it! Recovery, here I come.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal