Gleaning Network UK aims to reduce food waste in farms by co-ordinating volunteers, food growers and food redistribution charities around the UK to harvest and transport surplus produce to those most in need.
It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of British-grown crops fail to reach human consumers as a result of retailers’ excessively strict cosmetic standards and systematic over-production. With ten percent of global carbon emissions generated by growing food that will never be eaten and more than 5.8 million people living in food poverty in the UK, this colossal amount of wasted food is a scandal. However, it is also a brilliant opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of food production and help to alleviate food poverty.
Gleaning Network UK takes its name from the ancient practice of ‘gleaning’, the collection of surplus crops after harvest. The Network aims to address food waste on farms by coordinating local volunteers, growers and food redistribution charities to harvest unwanted fruit and vegetables and transport them to groups helping the most vulnerable members of society. The project is managed by the Feeding the 5000 campaign, founded in 2009 by campaigner and author Tristram Stuart to highlight the issue of global food waste and promote positive solutions to this problem.
In order to ensure that the maximum amount of surplus produce is saved in the most energy efficient way, Gleaning Network UK plans to establish a national network of local ‘gleaning hubs’, each consisting of local growers, food redistribution charities and volunteers who can rapidly mobilise and work together to harvest and redistribute the produce to local charities.
A ‘Gleaning Coordinator’, will be responsible for collating the details of volunteers, growers and food charities into a national database that can be used to alert local gleaning hubs whenever surplus produce becomes available.
To date five pilot projects have already salvaged several tonnes of apples, cabbages, spring greens and strawberries on farms in Kent, Sussex and Lincolnshire, which have contributed to thousands of meals for vulnerable people across the country. Gleaned produce was also used in Feeding the 5000 events in London and Bristol, which provided a free meal for 5000 people made from food that would otherwise have been thrown away.
Benefits of Gleaning:
- Nutritious fresh fruit and vegetables are saved from rotting in local fields. By salvaging nutritious food that would have been wasted, more food is available to eat without the need to increase food production, so reducing associated environmental impacts.
- Thousands of meals are provided for free to residents of local communities who cannot afford to eat a balanced and varied diet: up to 10,000 meals can be supplemented with fresh food from one gleaning day. Fresh fruit and vegetable consumption among lower income families has fallen by 30% since 2006, gleaning satisfies this urgent need. Food redistribution charities in the UK are struggling to access fresh food to complement the manufactured goods they have traditionally accessed and with
- Gleaning Network UK has already attracted significant media interest; this and its link to the Feeding the 5000 campaign will help to change behaviour of consumers and encourage retailers to relax their excessively strict cosmetic standards.This will contribute to the campaign that has already inspired some large retailers, including Tesco and Waitrose, to market ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables instead of wasting them.
PROJECT UPDATE JANUARY 2014
In 2013 Gleaning Network UK diverted approximately 50 tonnes of fruit and vegetables back into the human food system, collected from 20 gleaning days at farms around the UK. We set up 5 gleaning hubs around the country, in London, Kent, Manchester, Sussex and Cambridge. Through our campaigning and awareness raising activities, Gleaning Network UK has also indirectly contributed to the saving of hundreds of thousands more tonnes of fresh produce as retailers have slowly started marketing more imperfect fruit and veg.
Gleaning Network UK aims to ensure that as much as possible of the fruit and vegetables currently wasted on UK farms is returned to the human food system, ideally by changing the market for ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables. Gleaning Network UK also aims to ensure that all fresh produce not absorbed by the market is rescued and redistributed to in the first instance to charities, and then to secondary markets or outlets that process it into other products such as chutneys or juices. Wastage at farm level is caused in most part by the strict cosmetic standards of supermarkets and retailers, who refuse to buy produce that is misshapen. Wastage is also created by overproduction and ‘gluts’ of produce, sometimes a result of farmers over-planting to ensure that retailers have enough cosmetically perfect fruit and vegetables to choose from.
Gleaning Network UK works in two ways – from the top down and from the bottom up. Our gleaning hubs are designed to bring together local communities of volunteers, growers and charities to create a grassroots movement connecting people of all ages back to the countryside in which they live, helping people to do something to proactively to support local people and the environment. At the same time, we work to catalyse change on a national and international level by engaging the media to secure public interest and support, and through extensive face-to-face consultation with government departments, NGOs and some of the largest food retailers in the world.
Volunteers are the backbone of Gleaning Network UK. They harvest and transport produce from farms to redistribution charities; they become ambassadors of the project and help to communicate information about gleaning days to friends, family and colleagues. Our Volunteer Gleaning Coordinators are responsible for organising gleaning days for their local hub.
From February to September 2013 Gleaning Network UK engaged 208 volunteers who took part in a gleaning day, volunteered to run a gleaning hub or supported our media and research work, and added 670 new volunteers to the Gleaning Network UK database. The people who attended a gleaning day ranged in age from under 25 years to over 55 years and 26% had never volunteered before.
A snapshot of some of the people involved in our project:
- Farming organisations including the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the British Growers Association have promoted the work of Gleaning Network UK to the farming community, and 11 farmers in 6 counties across the UK have held gleaning days on their farms.
- At least 10 redistribution charities and companies around the UK have distributed gleaned produce to beneficiary charities, low income families and schools.
- Approximately 350 beneficiary charities have received produce from Gleaning Network UK (based on estimates from FareShare).
- Beneficiaries were provided with c. 625,000 portions of fresh fruit or vegetables provided by Gleaning Network UK (based on Love Food Hate Waste calculation).
- 150,000 customers of Company Shop, most of whom are low-income families, were provided with the opportunity to buy cauliflowers at a low price as a result of our gleaning day.
- School children from a school in Manchester, over 50% of whom receive free school meals, were given free cauliflowers and cabbages as a result of a gleaning day in Lancashire.
- At least 25 volunteer groups, charities, community groups and universities have been involved in spreading the word to their supporters and networks about Gleaning Network UK. These include Greenpeace, The Women’s Institute, The Wildlife Trust (Lancashire), Friends of the Earth (Manchester), FoodCycle (Cambridge, Manchester and Norwich), Transition groups (Manchester, Peterborough, Cambridge and Kent), Cambridge University Student Community Action group, Otesha and the Green Party.
- Food companies including McCain, Tesco and The Co-operative Group have been engaged in face to face meetings with Gleaning Network UK about how they can best reduce food waste at farm level and beyond.