A Lancaster gleaning network?

In this week’s column Martin Paley discusses opportunities for a local gleaning network.

cabbages

One third of all food is wasted globally, with waste found at every stage of the food supply chain – from field, to shop, to household. As this waste has a significant climate impact, it’s a key issue that needs to be tackled both locally in Lancaster and globally.

Feedback, a global charity campaigning for a more sustainable food system, is perhaps best known for its work on food waste. For example its gleaning network ensures that surplus produce on farms is harvested by volunteers, taken home, used for events and donated to organisations such as FareShare.

You might ask ‘why isn’t the farmer selling their ‘surplus’ food for money?’ Unfortunately supermarkets have tight cosmetic standards that mean we only see the ‘perfect’ produce: from the straightest carrot to the shiniest, smoothest apple. Other reasons include market forces surrounding a bumper crop. (If pumpkins grow well one season across the country, the price of pumpkins rapidly drops and the market becomes saturated). If this happens, it costs more to harvest the crop than it does to sell it as produce…

Having kept an eye on Feedback’s work, I was always keen to glean. One day the stars aligned and I went down to Ormskirk to join a fun medley of people from around the North West on a farm to rescue tonnes of cabbage. We were introduced to one another, armed with a knife and shown how to harvest the cabbage. It was really nice to feel connected to food rather than walking into an artificially lit supermarket lined with polished food that has travelled miles and been handled by many people’s hands, machines and wrapped in a plastic barrier. Instead, I found myself in daylight, fresh air and with a smile on my face. After half a day of work cutting, kneeling, bending, bagging and laughing we loaded up cars, trucks and pallets with bags full of cabbages.

Although we saved tonnes of cabbages, when we looked back at the field we’d barely scratched the surface. It felt like our efforts had been for nothing.

Nevertheless, I came back to Lancaster with a boot full of cabbage that was left at the University Community Fridge for all to enjoy. I was also happy in knowing that the bulk of our glean went to FareShare or was being saved for Feedback’s Spring Fiesta.

Feedback is now decentralising it’s gleaning network with the aim of empowering community groups to lead their own gleans and save food on the fields from going to waste. I am keen to set up a Lancaster gleaning network to support this. If you’re interested in finding out more, come along to an Introduction to gleaning on Wednesday 29th 7pm (look on the @FeedingLancaster FB page for venue details).

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