Gleaning for Food Security and the Environment

At Operation Food Search, our priority will always be getting nutritious food into the hands of people that need it and can’t access it. But what if we could do that while also decreasing our environmental impact? Thankfully, we can tackle these two issues at once with our new program, Gleaning.

What is Gleaning?

Gleaning is a tradition that dates back 2,000 years, when farms would open their fields to the community so those without enough food could harvest the unused crops. The practice is making a comeback. Over the last two years, we have been building our Gleaning Program to get nutritious produce straight from farms onto our client’s tables. This initiative came from a partnership between Operation Food Search and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Gleaning: The Operation Food Search Way

After a period of building relationships with different farms in the bistate area, the first Gleaning season occurred in the Summer of 2020. Since then, we’ve rescued nearly 25,000 pounds of produce from local farms. Our partners include Three Rivers Community Farm, Eckert’s Family Farms and Liberty Apple Orchard. During a time of uncertainty, Gleaning allowed us to continue serving our community while hosting volunteer groups outside. Produce is one of the most common requests from our agencies, and we are excited we have another opportunity to bring in more.

The benefits of Gleaning include:

  • Reducing food loss
  • Increasing access to healthy, local food for food-insecure individuals and families
  • Creating tax benefits for farms that donate food.

What Is It Like to Volunteer for Gleaning?

Hosting volunteer groups was difficult when Covid-19 first came about. We didn’t want to keep too many people in our volunteer center. Gleaning came at the perfect time, as it allowed us to bring volunteers outside, and everyone could take a row of produce and keep some distance between themselves and the next person.

On Gleaning days, a group of OFS staff and volunteers spends the morning harvesting produce at a farm within 45 minutes of our warehouse. Often, the farmers join in and help guide volunteers, so no experience is needed. After the event, volunteers also have the opportunity to shop at on-site stores. All harvested produce is then brought back to our warehouse, weighed and quickly distributed to the community. Volunteers always receive a follow-up email letting them know just how much was harvested and the impact of their work.

“We are grateful for the hard-working volunteers who literally dig in to help us fight hunger,” says Vogl, “and we couldn’t do this work without the partnership of these amazing local farms, who often plant extra rows of crops just for us to harvest.”

The next OFS Gleaning events are at Three Rivers Community Farm on June 14 and August 2. If you’re interested in learning more or volunteering, please visit our volunteer portal on the Operation Food Search website.


Written by Caroline Vogl, Operations Coordinator

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