Our partnerships: The Gleaning Network

Photo by Coco Sato

The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, farmers and food redistribution charities to salvage the thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables that are wasted on farms every year across the UK and Europe, and direct this fresh, nutritious food to people in need.

Over the past year in Sussex volunteers have gleaned over 20 tonnes of produce that would have otherwise gone to waste, including apples, pears, sweetcorn, spinach, plums and cherries. FareShare Sussex works with the Gleaning Network to distribute produce to charities across the county after they have been gleaned.

Photo by Coco Sato

We spoke to Phil, the Sussex Gleaning Coordinator about the Gleaning Network and the cherry glean that happened this summer.

“In July, a team of 28 volunteers headed out into the beautiful, sunny Sussex countryside to rescue a crop of cherries from Greenway Fruit Farm near Eastbourne. Over the course of the day, the group managed to save over 500kg of cherries that had ripened early. The farm had chosen it’s cherry varieties to be picked in series, but due to warm weather in May and June, the later varieties arrived early. The Gleaning Network received a text from the farmer at which point we sprang into action to mobilise a team of volunteers. With the aid of many glorious gleaners we managed to pick over 90 crates of cherries! The juicy pearls went to FareShare to distribute to local charities and community projects that support vulnerable people across Sussex. This couldn’t have been done without the help of the 28 volunteers who gave up their day to come gleaning so congratulations to them all.”

We followed the cherries along their journey from the farm to those in need. After being gleaned by the enthusiastic Gleaning Network volunteers at the farm near Eastbourne they were picked up by our volunteers in the FareShare van.

The cherries were brought back to our depot for storage before they were then distributed across Sussex on our delivery routes. The Brighton Table Tennis Club enjoyed the snack while playing down on Brighton beach, while the Clock Tower Sanctuary – which supports homeless young people – offered them out to those using the centre as a treat. On the weekly route to Crawley the FareShare van delivered some to Crawley Community Church who made a fabulous chocolate and cherry gateau.

Brighton Table Tennis Club enjoying cherries on Brighton seafront

Although this cherry abundance – and all previous gleans – are great news for FareShare’s charity members, it can be devastating for the farmers involved. Phil explained more:

“Food goes to waste in agriculture for a variety of reasons – no two farms are the same. However there are recurring themes that we come across when farmers invite us to glean. In some cases there are issues in the supply chain, where an expected order falls through due to the irresponsible buying practices by big retailers. Or if a pest or weather event has damaged the crop then a farmer may view the value of the (still edible) fruit of vegetable as lower than the cost of harvesting. Sometimes there just aren’t enough pairs of hands available to bring in the entire crop. There are also instances when an unpredictable spell of weather leads to crops ripening ahead or behind schedule, leading to a glut in supply. Then there is also the principle that many farmers refer to – that in their precarious line of work, it’s better to have too much produce than too little.”

Graham Love, the farmer at Greenway Fruit farm, told us “it’s a great thing to be able to share nature’s wonderful abundance with those who need it.”

Photo by Coco Sato

If this blog has inspired you to get involved then sign up to the Gleaning Network to be notified of gleans in your local area. Anybody and everybody is welcome to get involved in a gleaning day!

There are two apple gleans coming up in Sussex in October: sign up here.

The Gleaning Network is a campaign of Feedback Global – an environmental organisation that campaigns to end food waste on every level of the food system. You can find out more about Feedback and the Gleaning Network on their website here.