Y2K Prompts Wider Interest in Food Gleaning

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.

Day-old bread from bakeries and salmon killed by Native American
tribes just for the roe are also gleaned. This kind of operation is
typically known as food recovery.

More than a quarter of all food in America, equal to roughly 130
pounds per person, goes to waste every year, according to the
Department of Agriculture. This despite the fact that 26 million
Americans make use of emergency feeding programs.

The largest gleaning operation in the country is run by the
Society of St. Andrew in Big Island, Va. More than 17,600
volunteers collected 26 million pounds of produce in six states
last year for food banks and soup kitchens, said Steven Waldmann,
director of operations.

Unlike the Tahoma project, the society hasn’t received any calls
from clients with Y2K concerns. Waldmann attributed gleaning’s
rising popularity to increased demand from food charities that are
beginning to understand the importance of supplementing canned and
prepared foods with fresh produce.

What’s unique about the Tahoma program is that the people who
need it collect the food, said Garrett. Gleaners first gather
enough to feed their families and then go back to salvage
additional produce for area food banks. More than 50,000 people
access the emergency food system in the county every month, Garrett
said

The gleaning program, which operates with a small federal grant,
skewers the stereotype that people who don’t have enough to eat are
hungry because they’re lazy and won’t work. ‘You go out there and
watch our gleaners and you know that isn’t true,’ Garrett said.
Some of them are in their 70s. One woman canned 1,000 quarts of
food not long ago, he added.

Contacts: Steven Garrett, extension educator, Washington
State University Cooperative Extension, Tacoma, Wash.,
253-798-3262. Steven Waldmann, director of operations, Society of
St. Andrew, Big Island, Va., 800-333-4597.

Background:USDA web site. USDA gleaning information
number: 800-GLEAN-IT.

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