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Gleaning: a climate friendly solution for food waste

By Joan Qazi, SW board member

What did you think when in early August, the UN called the latest climate report a ‘Code Red for Humanity’? Terrifying, no? The persistent heat domes, the Western wildfires, and the devastating floods are driving all this home. One antidote to climate anxiety is action. And there are a number of local actions we can take individually and collectively that can help reduce the greenhouse gases causing global warming. According to Drawdown (which lists 100 climate solutions) reducing food waste is ranked as the third most impactful way to fight global warming. This is because one third of all food produced in high-income countries is wasted, and when it rots in landfills, it emits methane which is 25 times more heat-trapping than carbon in the atmosphere.

So, let’s get back to local action to reduce food waste. Have you heard of Upper Valley Mend's Community Harvest’s gleaning program? Volunteers harvest fruits or vegetables that would otherwise be wasted from orchards, farms, and backyard gardens with the owner’s permission, of course. If a farmer has excess or otherwise unmarketable produce, they can contact the gleaning coordinator, who organizes a group of volunteers to come out and harvest it. Then, it is delivered to food banks throughout Chelan and Douglas Counties to offer fresh produce to hungry people. Community Harvest is a win-win solution, reducing food waste and fighting hunger! Whit Jester, the gleaning coordinator, told me that on average they glean 40,000 lbs. of produce each year, and usually have a number of volunteer opportunities each week from June to October.

Photo provided by Community Harvest

Gleaning is one of my personal favorite volunteer activities. I have gleaned apricots, cherries, raspberries, blueberries, table grapes, and apples, lots of apples. But there is also kale, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, turnips, pears, potatoes, and even gleaning from farmers market vendors who might have unsold produce at the end of market day. Gleaning allows you to see new landscapes from orchards on the hill above Malaga to fields nestled in the Leavenworth Valley. Plus, you get to meet really interesting people. Last Fall, I joined the Big Apple Glean in Cashmere with over 100 other volunteers and we harvested about 10 bins of apples that were distributed to food banks across the state. It was like a lively, outdoor, socially-distanced party, where you can help individually, but feel the collective action to reach our reduced food waste goals.

Joan and family at an apricot glean

The climate crisis is dire, and we must act now on multiple fronts. If you would like to help through gleaning, please contact Whit Jester at More volunteers means more produce gleaned and less food waste!

Whit showing off gleaned tomatoes

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