What is Gleaning?

Although “gleaning” may be an unfamiliar term to some, many of us may be unknowingly practicing it in our everyday lives. Defined by the USDA as the act of “collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need,” gleaning is essentially gathering food that would otherwise go to waste (USDA Gleaning Toolkit).

The History of Gleaning

Historically, the definition of gleaning has been when a group or individual would gather grain, produce, or any other material after a harvest. We see gleaning as far back as in the Old Testament of the Bible, where Hebrew farmers were commanded to not harvest the entirety of their crops, leaving a portion for poor neighbors and strangers to collect and bring back to their families. We continue to see gleaning laws in France and England, whose governments protect the rights of the poor to glean leftover crops from farms nearby (What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future).

As an important form of social welfare for well over 2,000 years, gleaning was an essential part of farm life and the harvest process until private property laws and farming technology around the time of World War II started to limit these rights (What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future). Recently, efforts have been made in the U.S. to encourage providing food to those in need, including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which encouraged people and organizations to donate their excess food instead of throwing it away by protecting them from liability (What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future). There has also been an eruption of gleaning organizations over the country, with over twenty organizations in California alone.

Why Should We Glean?

Today, gleaning is needed more than ever. Well over 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the U.S., with nearly 40% of the nation’s food supply going to waste (nutrition connect). At the same time, there are roughly 49 million people who are at risk of going hungry or are food insecure, meaning they struggle with access to healthy, affordable meals (USDA Gleaning Toolkit). Within this at-risk population lies an alarming number of college students. Roughly 34-59% of college students are food insecure and struggle with finding meals (Maroto). With easy resources around college campuses, especially around USF, gleaning is a strategy that will not only address these food accessibility issues, but they will also strengthen community relationships and community food systems.

On and Off-Campus Resources

There are multiple on and off campus resources and locations where gleaning is possible, including the USF Food Recovery Network, the USF Community Garden and other related locations, the USF Food Pantry, and local farmers markets and grocery stores. Understanding these resources, as well as how to glean, makes it easy for college students to feed themselves in a healthy, affordable, and sustainable way.

USF Food Recovery Network

The Food Recovery Network is the largest student-led movement fighting against food waste and working to end hunger and has recovered and donated nearly five billion pounds of food, which is equivalent to feeding over 4.1 million meals to those in need (FRN). The USF chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN) fights food waste and hunger within our community by recovering perishable food that would otherwise be thrown away. Three nights a week, the USF FRN recovers extra food from the USF cafeteria and donates the food by the following day to those who need it most. For more information on how to get involved with the USF Food Recovery Network, visit their Facebook page, email the organization at usf.frn@gmail.com, or email Juliana Carmondy, the USF chapter president, at jccarmody@dons.usfca.edu.

USF Community Garden and Other Related Locations

Another resource for students to glean is the USF Community Garden. Located in between the School of Education and the Lone Mountain East residence hall, the USF Community Garden is a space for students, faculty, and staff who are interested in sustainable agriculture. While this space is used for biology, urban agriculture, and community garden outreach classes, it is also encouraged for students to visit and utilize. David Silver, my Community Garden Outreach professor, especially encourages students to make use of the garden’s fruit trees, where they can take apples if they need it. Other related locations around campus where students can glean food include Kalmanovitz Amphitheater and the School of Education, where there are rosemary bushes.

If you are interested in learning more about gleaning through the USF Community Garden and other locations around campus, you can contact David Silver at dmsilver@usfca.edu, or consider taking a community garden outreach class that not only will teach you more about sustainable agriculture but will also count toward fulfilling your degree requirement for Service Learning/Community-Engaged Learning.

USF Food Pantry

The USF Food Pantry, located on the basement level of Gleeson Library in room G04, is a short term, intermediate solution that provides free food and toiletries to any USF student. At the beginning of Fall 2021, the USF Food Pantry offered strictly non-perishable items, however it has evolved into offering fresh produce from Star Route Farms, fresh breads, student-made vinaigrettes, and educational resources like cookbooks. We as students technically don’t do the gleaning; the USF Food Pantry does the gleaning for us by gathering food for students in need. However, the food pantry is still an essential resource in the discussion of gleaning, food security, and student hunger.

If you are interested in checking out the Food Pantry, it typically operates every other Friday from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. If you have any questions, please contact Kahanu Salavea at usffoodpantry@usfca.edu or at (415) 422-4099. Visit the USF Food Pantry website for updated hours of operation.

Local Farmers Markets and Grocery Stores

This last resource is located off-campus at local farmers markets and grocery stores. For grocery stores near campus, you can check out Trader Joes on Masonic, Lucky on Fulton, and Safeway on 7th. For nearby farmers markets, you can check out the Divisadero Farmers Market (open on Sundays from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) or the Clement Street Farmers Market (open on Sunday from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) At these locations, gleaning requires being bold. You can simply ask farmers, grocers, or workers if there is any food or produce that they were unable to sell or is about to be thrown away. The worst case scenario is that they are unable to give anything away, while the best case scenario is that you walk away with food that not only prevents food waste but feeds you as well.

Urban Gleaning

While the topic of gleaning as well as discussions we have about it mostly talk about food, it is important to recognize that current-day gleaning extends beyond just collecting food. Historically, the definition of gleaning had to do strictly with field gleaning, however as we progress, its definition progresses with us. Today, there is a practice of urban gleaning as well, which is essentially gleaning in urban environments like on streets and sidewalks. We see urban gleaning in how furniture, electronics, and other items are left outside of houses and apartments and occasionally labeled “free” for people to take. Especially at USF, being in the middle of the city makes urban gleaning possible. From free items being left on sidewalks bordering campus to students carrying free TVs and furniture up to their dorm rooms, it is important to recognize that we can glean both our food and our everyday objects.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about gleaning in general, I strongly encourage you to watch the film, The Gleaners and I”. This film explores what it means to glean, both historically and in the present, by following a series of gleaners across France. Happy gleaning!


Works Cited

8 options for Healthy, Michigan produce delivered to your door. ThinkHealth. (2021, May 20). Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://thinkhealth.priorityhealth.com/8-options-for-healthy-michigan-produce-delivered-to-your-door/

Maroto, Maya E., et al. “Food Insecurity among Community College Students: Prevalence and Association with Grade Point Average.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice, vol. 39, no. 6, 1 Oct. 2014, pp. 515–526., https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2013.850758.

“USDA Gleaning Toolkit.” USDA.

“What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future.” Food Recovery, Food Forward, 23 Sept. 2015, https://foodforward.org/food-recovery/what-is-gleaning/.

“What We’re Doing.” Our Story, Food Recovery Network, https://www.foodrecoverynetwork.org/what-we-do.