Gleaning Plant Starts

A new type of “gleaning” has been emerging in the WSU Extension Program. Because of the local abundance of gardeners and farmers, calls have been coming in from donors offering extra vegetable and fruit plant starts. The food banks have expressed a desire in handing these out to their clients in order to pique an interest in local foods. Response from food bank clients has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic with truckloads of plant starts disappearing off of food bank shelves in less than a day. By contacting local farmers and gardening clubs, the Gleaning Coordinator can solicit plant starts to pass on to donation sites. These donations are much more successful when they are supplemented with an educational presentation at the food bank on planting techniques, maintenance, and harvest. Other donated materials such as soil, pots and gardening tools would make a program even better. The Gleaning Coordinator can hand out information about basic gardening principles to increase gardening success rate.  A Gleaning Coordinator might consider approaching the local garden club or group of Master Gardeners, to ask them if they would consider growing extra starts in order to donate to the food banks/ Boys and Girls Club/ Senior Centers etc.  Asking food bank managers which type of produce would be popular with clients, and then passing this knowledge onto the gardening group will encourage gardeners to grow starts that will be really appreciated and interesting to clients.  Since many clients may be gardening for the first time, growing starts that are easy for a beginner and likely to be successful would be a good choice.  If the Gleaning Coordinator can harness the enthusiasm of local gardeners and encourage them to offer classes or demonstrations on how to grow these starts, so much the better. Inspiring interest in food bank clients in growing their own fruits and vegetables will likely increase their interest in eating fresh, locally grown produce. Becoming a gardener is often an important step in developing an appreciation for eating vegetables. Vegetable seeds would be a welcome addition to the food bank as well. These could be requested as a donation from seed companies, especially at the end of the summer. Many seed companies then have leftovers that are no longer sellable for the next year and will be more willing to donate.   

WSU Extension builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, businesses, and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. The 39 Extension locations throughout the state of Washington offer researched based resources and volunteer programming to communities in efforts to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs. Over 100 years ago The Extension service was originally funded by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which established the Cooperative Extension service across the country.

The Clallam County Extension, located in Port Angeles, is home to many programs that connect the people and communities of Clallam County with the knowledge base of Washington State University. These programs include: Master Gardeners, 4-H, Small Farms, Waste Reduction, Food and Nutrition, and Water Protection. The Gleaning Coordinator position was created in 2016 to better serve the existing gleaning program. Before the creation of this position the gleaning program had served the community for eight years but never with the attention of a full-time position. Today the gleaning program has over 300 volunteers who pick produce from residential yards, farm production overages, community garden donations and extras from a local farmer’s market. The gleaning coordinator promotes the program by presenting public lectures, reaching out to volunteer organizations, teaching youth groups, attending local events, advertising on social media and by putting out press releases. Homeowners are more than happy to hear there is a volunteer-based organization willing to pick their extra fruit and veggies. Once the produce has been picked a portion is taken home to family and friends and the rest is brought to a local food service program, most often a food bank. The gleaning program takes pride in turning potential food waste into a community resource. 

Related Articles