Growing and Gleaning and Giving Back for the Greater Good

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Growing and Gleaning and Giving Back for the Greater Good

The notion of gleaning, or leaving behind harvest remnants for the needy to scrape together to feed themselves is nothing new.

It is rooted deeply into Judeo-Christian history books, which instruct farmers, vintners and others from collecting the leavings after their primary harvests. Today, the practice has evolved into programs that not only gather and distribute crop residues to support the disadvantaged but also into agendas that specifically grow food intended only for those in need. And, not every institution and individual cultivating, collecting, harvesting, or distributing food is driven by a religious directive. Many altruists simply delight in giving back and providing solutions to feed the sick, elderly, unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged members of their local community.


Last spring when I helped design and install a Fiskars Project Orange Thumb garden in Portland, Oregon, the Fiskars’ generous grant donation inspired the community receiving the grant garden grow more than just a bit of food for themselves. Co-designer Joe Lamp’l and I worked out the overall garden design to include perimeter beds for everyone to share. These areas were filled with a number of tasty blueberry bushes, savory herbs, pollinator attracting perennials, weed-deterring groundcovers, as well as other trees and shrubs. The heirs of this new garden were thrilled to know scrumptious berries would border their plots. Many of these seasoned and aspiring new gardeners had been hit hard by the recession and were digging in as a way to grow food to feed their struggling families. Perhaps inspired by the sense of community and giving this day brought about, these very same people in need were the first to say they would be sharing their growing skills and their harvests with fellow Portland residents in need.

In 1995 the Garden Writers Association launched “Grow a Row for the Hungry”, which by 2002 became an expanded non-profit. This program educates the public on hunger and provides resources illustrating how to grow food to abate the problem. They advocate the idea of creating a donation-only row to existing edible garden beds. While not everyone has room to add a specific farm row to their veggie patch, there are easy solutions and generous crops that enable every gardener to give a bit back from even the smallest plot.


Want to grow to donate?

Consider tucking in generous crops like easy-to-grow lettuce, chard, and kale, which can provide nonstop harvests throughout the growing season. Need to grow vertically in tight spots? Climbing peas and beans are great solutions, plus the more you harvest from these crops, the more you get. And, one of the easiest crops to grow in the garden or in a container is the pantry staple potato; even planted in the worst of soils under neglectful conditions, these nutritious tubers consistently provide heavy yields, with more than enough to share.


Have an overabundance you need help getting to those in need?

Many urban homeowners plant or inherit properties blessed with mature fruit trees that are filled with delicious fruit each year. The problem so many report is that they just can’t keep up with the harvest or the subsequent mess that falls to the ground, attracting rats, wasps, raccoons, possums and other undesirable wildlife. Fortunately, there are a number of programs designed to distribute your overwhelming bounty to those who need it most. And better yet, in some cities, they’ll even harvest the crop for you!


If you’re interested in harvesting and donating your crops yourself, try contacting your local food banks and retirement communities to find out what days they accept fresh food donations and what they’ll accept. Then time your harvest and contribution day to meet their needs. If you need help reaping and distributing larger harvests, check with your nearby food banks, community centers, homeless shelters, meal delivery services or retirement homes to learn who is providing gleaning services in your community. Or, check the resource list below for programs dedicated to feeding the hungry on local, regional, national and international levels:
Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network