Y2K Prompts Wider Interest in Food Gleaning

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TACOMA, Wash. -- Concerns about Y2K are contributing to an increase in produce being gleaned from local farms, according to an agricultural educator.

The Tahoma Food System, which helps low-income people collect leftover fruits and vegetables after harvest, anticipates more than 500,000 pounds of produce will be taken from Puget Sound-area fields this year, up from 300,000 in 1998.

'We are definitely getting people calling up because of Y2K,' said Steven Garrett, who oversees the project. Garrett is an educator with Washington State University Cooperative Extension, which began the gleaning program in Pierce County in 1990.

Some people fear that errant computers, programmed to recognize only the last two numbers in a date, will misread the year 2000 for 1900, setting off a series of glitches in the distribution of goods and services.

More people than usual are also taking advantage of the Extension service's classes in canning food this year, Garrett said. Based on previous research, more than 90 percent of the anticipated 200 low-income gleaners will preserve their food to use later, he said.

The custom of leaving behind a part of the crop for the poor and transient is ancient and mentioned in the Book of Leviticus in the Bible. It was also the subject of a famous painting by the 19th-century artist Jean Fran?ois Millet.

In the Tacoma area, about 30 farmers open their fields to gleaners. They welcome the free labor if they are running late on harvesting corn, for example, and want to get a second crop in without having to pay a work crew. Other times an apple, bean or pumpkin crop may simply not meet the exacting standards of the retail industry.