Gleaning and gleaners

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Urban_GleanerGleaning is the practice of going into the fields after harvest and picking up what is left behind; ears of wheat, errant potatoes or onions, etc. Once a common practice, and done exclusively by women and children, it is now not so common, since machine harvesting leaves little behind.

But there are still gleaners, men and women, and in some cases children who now not only glean the fields but also the urban markets, collecting what they can to survive, or simply because they hate those fruit and vegetables, many which may not be bad at all, to go to waste.

Dumpster diving also would fall under the term gleaning in the modern sense and so could also the activity of any of us who picks up the things that others have lost (and are too lazy to come and look for again) or have deliberately thrown “away” while they still can be used.

I grew up with the advice always not to waste anything and that, to me, extended also to things that I could find, whether it was lost vegetables or other lost and tossed out things that could still be used. That mentality does have a drawback though and that is that one tends to accumulate a great many “things that may come in handy” and it is then a question of storing those things. It is a different issue, obviously, when it comes to (fresh) food that has been gleaned, whether from the fields, from markets or from dumpsters.

When I was a child there were also still so-called common trees to be found along the country lanes, apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc., once planted for the commoners to use but even then no one was interested in them anymore. The fruits often were smaller than those that were in the shops, especially the apples and the pears, but we harvested from them by collecting the fallen fruit as much as by climbing into the trees and taking them from there. And you could, without anyone complaining and calling the cops, pick up the fallen fruit and vegetables on the market at the end of the day, and even during the day. The stallholders did not mind as long as one stayed out of the way of the paying customers.

Then stallholders on the daily or weekly markets also would make people aware of things that they could not sell but were perfectly suited to the gleaner and greengrocers in villages and towns would stop the poorer children at the end of the trading day and give them those fruit and vegetables that could not be carried over to the next day to take home to Mom. Nowadays that is illegal. And thus tons and tons of food goes to waste while many of the poorer classes have to go without. Instead of traders and gleaners being prosecuted it should be the wast should be tackled and prosecuted instead. But, as long as everything is money orientated this is not going to happen and thus we must change it.

© 2016