Gleaning Program Helps Connect Farmers to their Community by Giving Back

By Christen Commuso

Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s (MCE) Food and Farm Program not only works to diversify Missouri’s farming economy, helps environmentally responsible farmers thrive, organizes community-led food justice programs, and conserves fertile soils and clean water, but the program also helps ensure access to a healthy, secure food supply for all people. 

MCE, in collaboration with Operation Food Search (OFS), launched a pilot gleaning program last year. For those unfamiliar, gleaning involves a team of volunteers going to a farm to harvest or pick up already harvested unwanted food for donation. MCE’s Local Food Director and OFS’s Food Donations Manager lead the small teams of volunteers to work the fields of participating farmers throughout the greater St. Louis bi-state region. The gleaned food is quickly distributed to food-insecure individuals and families in the region through OFS’s network of over 200 food pantries. 

Gleaning reduces food loss and allows donation tax credits for farmers while putting healthy, fresh, local food into the hands of those who need it most. In addition, it increases connections between local farmers and the communities they feed. 

The gleaning program began as the world was thrust into one of the most trying times of the last century, the global pandemic. Before it, OFS was already helping to feed over 200,000 people every month. According to OFS, more than 173,000 children, or 1 in 4, in the St. Louis bi-state region go to bed hungry. Food insecurity creates a vicious poverty cycle that leads to poor health, higher crime rates and higher healthcare costs. As the pandemic raged on, unemployment surged and food insecurity only grew. Because of the gleaning program, an additional 2,600 pounds of healthy, locally-sourced food was put onto the plates of individuals and families in need.

With the 2021 growing season in full swing, gleaning opportunities can arise at a moment’s notice. Volunteers report a high rate of satisfaction with the program, and all participants responded that “MCE & OFS’s leadership team is terrific, and they would glean with us again if there were more opportunities.”

MCE hopes to expand the number of farmers participating in the program, thus reducing on-farm waste and putting more local, healthy food on the plates of those living within the region. 

MCE and OFS continue to be grateful and inspired by our volunteers and farmers. If you would like to volunteer to glean or are a farmer looking to participate, please visit MCE’s Greater St. Louis Area Gleaning Program page to learn more and sign-up.