Glean the field, feed the hungryGleaners provide ‘hand up’ not ‘hand out’
The Haywood Gleaners have taken some big steps toward addressing hunger in Haywood County. A year old this summer, the group saved approximately 30,000 pounds of food from going to waste and has joined the social enterprise movement in the county.
Working under the Society of St. Andrew — a grassroots, faith-based, hunger relief nonprofit founded in 1979 — the primary function of the Haywood Gleaners is to rescue fresh produce that would be otherwise wasted and donate it to feed the hungry.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that Americans wasted 30 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food produced in the country last year. Preventing waste is something the gleaners take very seriously.
“We go out to the farms when the farmer is finished with his crop and he doesn’t want to take the rest to market because it won’t make enough money to package it and transport it,” said Nancy Habor, a gleaner from Canton. “So we go to the fields that have ripe vegetables of any kind and we take what we need. We take it home with us or we share it with other people.”
The concept of gleaning gets its roots from the Bible; one of the primary elements in the book of Ruth is Ruth gleaning the fields of Boaz for herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi.
“If you’re hungry and you need the produce and you have the will to take care of yourself and your family, you’ll come out and glean,” said Linda Garland, a gleaner from Waynesville. “We want to be a ‘hand up’ type of people instead of a ‘hand out.’”
Everyone — regardless of age, ability or income — are welcome and invited to glean. There is no cost to glean, but gleaners must have a good work ethic.
“We define gleaners as anyone who’s involved in any way in getting that produce,” said Jim Geenan, with the Haywood Gleaners.
Jobs include dispatching gleaners to fields, transporting gleaners to and from farms, produce transportation, speaking to churches, clubs and/or schools, and canning, preserving and freezing produce.
The majority of the produce gleaned gets distributed to over 20 sites in Haywood County — The Open Door, The Community Kitchen, Haywood Christian Ministry, Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, Pigeon Center Multicultural Center, sheriff’s department, food pantries, nursing homes, retirement centers and the local jail, to name a few.
And gleaners can take as much as they want.
“If you need food, you take all you want. Just don’t waste it,” said Geenan.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, they don’t have enough gleaners to save all the discarded produce.
“One of our challenges is to get enough gleaners to meet the generosity of the farmers,” said Geenan.
“We have so much produce out there that the small number of people we get to the farms can’t pick it all,” said Garland.
“Gleaning is not punitive,” said Geenan. “And I think it’s important that people understand that. It’s working with and for others. And we get exercise; we get to know our community and our neighbors by doing this. It’s really a community building thing.”
The Haywood Gleaners do not define themselves as a political or religious group. They all go to different churches and hold different political beliefs. But they do all believe in preventing waste and fighting hunger in the most efficient way possible with the means they have at hand.
An orientation meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 10, at The Open Door, located at 39 Commercial St., Waynesville. All are welcome to attend and learn about the different ways they can participate in the gleaning process.