Gleaning is the ancient way of providing for the poor. After the workers had picked the fields, the poor could go in and pick after them. The workers were also to let anything that fell stay where it fell, which the poor could then pick up.

How do you glean today?

Look and Ask:

Look for fruit trees in your neighborhood (or in neighborhoods that you pass) that are hanging full of fruit, and where fruit is dropping underneath. You may see them over a wall or fence as you drive by. Knock on the door and ask if you can pick the fruit. Chances are, the person living there will be happy to have someone use it.

Craig’s List:

Look on Craig’s list and Freecycle for offers of free fruit. One of my readers cans hundreds of jars of fruits and jams each year just from fruit that she gleans that she has found on Craig’s list. She also puts out ads on Craig’s list, looking for free fruit. She has been contacted by people this way as well who don’t want to eat the fruit from their trees and would love for it to be used.

Olives 2 The Prudent Homemaker

Friend of a Friend:

Let people know that you are looking to pick fruit. I have found most of my fruit this way. Other people have friends and acquaintances who have fruit trees, and those people don’t want all of the fruit from the trees. I have found a lot of fruit this way.

When you go to pick, bring a ladder and something to put your fruit into. I prefer to bring handled baskets that can hang over my arm while I am picking. Be sure to pick up and dispose of any rotting fruit that has fallen while you are there, as a courtesy to the person who has allowed you to pick.

Glean in a Field:

After dropping off her children at an out-of state university, my sister-in-law drove past a farmer’s field. He had closed his farm stand the week before, but frost had not yet hit his fields. My sister-in-law could see plenty of food still left on the vines.

She knocked and asked the farmer if she could pick the food that the farmer was leaving to rot in his fields. He was reluctant at first, but then agreed to allow her to pick. She filled the back of her pickup truck with tomatoes (green and red), cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon. She said that despite that, the field was still full of food, and it hurt her to leave behind so much. She brought the food home and shared it with her family and friends.

There are other ways to glean, too, that are different than just picking fruit, and that can involve more than produce.

Join a Gleaning Group:

There are groups that gather expired and blemished food from grocery stores and restaurants and make it available to others. These groups may ask for a regular fee to join, or ask for a donation to help cover the cost of gas that is incurred while picking up food.

They are not easy to find, and with good reason. I have seen several groups that I know of end completely, and sources choose to throw the food out and no longer donate it because of the abuse of others in one of the many gleaning groups that pick up. Abuses have included returning expired food and asking for fresh, stealing items from the gleaning location, and selling the food. These abuses have completely closed down avenues of food for the needy to all of that store’s groups. Because of this, groups are quiet and hard to find. I have benefited from getting food in this way, but I have seen avenue after avenue close up because of this as well. The group I belonged to quit existing 4 times; once because of theft, once because someone complained, and for the other two reasons that I mentioned above. If you are receiving food in a gleaning group, be grateful. Know that the food is expired and some, if not much of it, will be bad. Cut around the bad spots on the fruits and vegetables, throw out anything that is no longer good, and don’t take advantage. Do not steal from the location where you are gleaning; only take the food that has been offered and nothing else. Be quiet about your group, so that stores will want to continue to give.

Some people are picking up for their own animals, and taking anything good for their families. Mavis at One Hundred Dollars a Month writes about how she does this. You can see the quality of food that she receives in her photographs. That is pretty typical of what a gleaning group receives (however, the corn she considered unacceptable would be pretty normal at a gleaning group, and the bad spots can be removed, while the rest can be eaten).

Gleaning groups often pick up expired bread, blemished produce, dented cans, and various odds and ends. Each group has different resources and different opportunities.

Say Yes:

When an offer of free food comes your way, accept it. If someone calls and says, “I have all of these leftovers from a huge party we had and we can’t eat them all before they go bad; would you like some?”–say yes. If you’re at a church event or a party and someone asks if you would like to take home some leftovers, say yes. One reader mentioned that she was worried what others would think of her if she said yes to the leftovers, so she said no. The leftover food was promptly thrown in the trash, since no one said they wanted it. After that, she said that she always said yes.

Gleaning often means changing your schedule to accommodate picking, canning, and freezing that day. An offer to glean can’t wait; fruit will go bad. Being willing to glean will change your day or the next couple of days, depending on the amount of food that you glean.

Even though I live in the desert and very few people garden here, I have still found fruit to glean. I have gleaned apricots, peaches, apples, figs, grapes, and pomegranates. (If you go to glean pomegranates, wear long sleeves, even if it’s hot out. Wear gloves and take a pair of pruning shears or strong scissors to cut the fruit off of the vines.)

Do take into consideration the cost of gas involved in going to glean. I was offered the chance to glean from 3 apricot trees earlier this year. I was very excited–until I learned that the trees were 45 minutes away. The cost of gas there and back did not make it worth my while. Likewise, I have passed on many opportunities to pick up from my gleaning group when the gas is too much for me to justify the drive. Unless you’re coming out ahead, gleaning can cost you more in gas than you receive in free food.

Have you gleaned food? What resources have you found for finding food?

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  1. Thank you so much for this most-useful information. I came here as a result of a reply you made to one of my comments over at Money-Saving Mom and I am so, so grateful for your wisdom. I have following your post on how to eat beans every night. We made the minestrone soup a couple nights ago. My husband and I really liked it. Now I need to get brave enough to try your French Bread recipe because we are addicted to it. I’m so glad you have this blog, because not all us women were raised to manage a home, garden, sew, and cook. I wish I had been taught those things, but at age 36, I think I’m finally making progress. Thanks again so much! Hugs!

  2. The technical term for that is foraging, but I definitely think that foraging for free, wild foods is something that should be part of this discussion! It’s not something that I can do much here (yucca is edible but it rarely grows wild), but in other areas of the world (in fact most of the world) foraging is a means to a lot of food! Chickweed, dandelion greens, roquette (aka rocket or arugula), and purslane are edible weeds that often can be found in one’s own garden. I’d love to hear others’ experiences with foraged food on the comments in this post.

  3. When I was young, we were really poor compared to what my parents can afford now. My father invested every penny he had to buy a small garden just outside the little town we were living in (the garden he bought had an awkward triangle shape so it couldn’t be considered for anything else and we got it very cheap) and we grew a few things (he used to ride us and the produce on his bycicle to and from there, too).Besides that, we used to make outings into the woods and use to pick kilograms of backberries, wild rapsberries, dandelion stems (for salad), wild garlic, and some other things in the summer, wild salad in the spring and lots of mushrooms and nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.), mushrooms dogberries and blackthorn in fall and winter (blackthorn is only eateable after the first frost has come down. Gleaning was not so prevalent in my area because most people who owned fruit trees used the fruit themselves or traded it for other fruit. Canning used to be a national sport in my childhoood :), though it was made without all the equipment I keep seeing online nowadays. When I think of canning, I still think of the thick woolen blankets we were wrapping the hot canning jars in, to let the cool out slowly. My grandma is still canning that way every summer.

  4. In the past, I have gleaned apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, cherries & grapes from offers on Freecycle, craigslist, & free in the classifieds. Most people who posted, wanted the fruit gone NOW, so you had to drop everything to go pick. I have only seen 2 apricot trees & one cherry tree offered this year, & the apricot trees were too far away, gas-wise. The cherry tree was already picked by the time I saw the ad. The fruit is not perfect, but I have filled dozens of jars of food for my family this way.I used to participate in a freecycle “bread drop” where expired bread was dropped off at a freecycle location, but one rude person ruined it for everyone else.

  5. When I was younger and growing up on a farm, canning was a way of life. Not so much anymore but I have had a chance to glean in the city too. My mother in law has a crab apple tree, they are common in the city but few people use their fruit. Last year I made apple juice, apple jelly and apple sauce from her tree. This year she is letting us pick all we want again and I plan on more apple jelly and apple pie filling that can also be used for crisps and other deserts. When I was still living at home we picked crab apples by the box and five gallon bucket full. My mother and I sliced, cooked and juiced apples until we could not stand to look at another apple. All from gleaning.

  6. I have this great picture of my oldest as a 2 year old peeling the skin off peaches that we gleaned. We had volunteered to work in the church orchard and later were invited to take what had fallen to the gound after the initial harvest. I don’t think I have ever tasted any better peaches in my life. I have to say I am so sad to drive by that area, as the orchard was taken out for a housing development.I gleaned this past year. I see places in the classifieds or stopped by a house that had let almost all the fruit rot on the ground. The church party before last, I didn’t take all the food offered, as I waited for others to take first, and then most all was just tossed in the trash right in front of me. I won’t hesitate again.I tried to take from the grocer, but they didn’t like it and I had to take from their trash can. They ended up stopping it after a few weeks.A couple of my neighbors know that if they won’t use their garden produce, we will take it. Not all the gleaned food is perfect, but so much is usable and better than just throwing out.I just wish people wouldn’t be so worried about taking or giving offense about it. It is food and people in the world are hungry.

  7. To the gleaning topic I just wanted to add that I have heard of semi-official gelaning groups in my area (they used to donate the food gleaned to the needy which here is determined by a document issued from the local authorities that the person in question is getting some sort of social aid) which have not received any food anymore from local stores because of the mess they have left behind while choosing what they would take or leave to the containers. Another group was just plain messy so the store had cleaning issues every time after they shoved up. So may those who glean this way pay attention that they collect the food they have been given neatly.

  8. I do this at my CSA, they have an “extra” box where the produce is not perfect but is totally fine if you are going to go home and cook it. It can be difficult to manage your time when you get unexpected produce but it is a pretty nice problem to have.

  9. Gleaning is a great way to get and to give! I belong to a volunteer group called Harvest Sacramento–we glean fruit and veggies and donate to the local food banks. Last week, we gleaned a tomato field and donated nearly 1,000 pounds to Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. And we left so much more in the field because we ran out of time…I brought home 125 pounds of tomatoes for our family and spent the weekend processing, canning, and drying. I’m quite tired of those tomatoes now but they will be welcome this winter!

  10. I don’t have much personal experience with gleaning, and had no idea there was so much gleaning done. I guess my “gleaning” amounts to never walking past a clearance basket at the market without looking to see if there is something we could use, or couponing for free items.I have been known to pick wild blackberries, and as a child went with my father to pick wild mulberries. My parents often picked wild poke salet (ALL poke salet is wild, you can’t cultivate it.), and elderly neighbors ask for it when they spy it on my property. They’re welcome to it, I don’t eat things that are poison if you don’t do things just right.There are a lot of Native Americans near here who have favorite spots for finding wild mushrooms, another practice I consider risky, although I love cultivated ones.

  11. Foraging! Yes, that’s the word my tired mama brain couldn’t recall. ;)There are all sorts of things to glean here: crab apples, wild grapes, mushrooms, elderberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, fiddleheads, dandelions, sorrel, hazelnuts, wild leeks, violets, etc. If you’re lucky enough to know where there is an old abandoned farm, you might even find asparagus. So far, the only things I’ve foraged on our property are violet blossoms and blackberries. We have hazelnuts, but the chipmunks usually get them all before I can. I discovered fiddleheads this spring, but didn’t get a chance to pick them before they were too big. Next year, I’ll be ready!

  12. Love your post!!I started a gleaning group in 2009 with a group of girlfriends. It’s open to anybody/everybody, run completely via email, and charges no fees or dues. We don’t glean from stores (most stores here donate to our local food bank and we don’t want to be competition.) We focus primarily on gleaning from fields and yards. It’s great! Free workout, free produce, it helps reduce waste. I’ve learned so much about sustainability, food preservation (a couple of our members are from the Extension Service and are master canners/preservers), and need in our community. Most of our gleans we either split half with the local food bank or the land owner.I’m linking your post to our page! Thank you so much again for a thorough and well-written article.Brandy CollierEugene Area Gleaners

  13. It’s not exactly gleaning but several CSA’s in our area allow you to work for a box of produce. So that may be a source of fresh produce and produce to can yourself.

  14. I was in a gleaners group for a few years. I’ve since had to stop because of time, and an injury (that is fine now–but I couldn’t do my share of the work). But, here’s how it worked. You qualified by income, but it was a much higher amount than say, food stamps, and it was required that you help. You had a small “team” and a large “warehouse.” At the warehouse, food was collected and each day pallets were made up for the teams. A member from the team collected the pallet of food and took it to a drop site, where the team members could come and get their portion. I worked every week at the warehouse for quite a while. It was very physical. Lots of box hauling, lifting, etc. Good exercise. My husband and I also took our turn hauling the load to the drop site and organizing it for our team to pick up. You had to take all of your portion, good or bad. Someone had to be signed up for set up and clean up, so the person’s house/shed was not left messy. We actually volunteered to haul away unwanted food for many months and raised pigs with it. Because we got our regular team portion plus a box every time I worked at the warehouse, plus an extra one when my daughter came and worked, we ended up giving away a large quantity of the food we received. I preserved a lot, used a lot, and did not have to buy a lot of produce during those years. I still had to grow green beans for canning, etc. I never got the quality or quantity to preserve all of the stuff we eat a lot of, but I did get stuff I never would have boughten, like pineapple to can one time. I don’t regret doing it, but it did take a lot of time to work there (I was not required to work so much, I just enjoyed it and it was worthwhile), to set up/clean up, to haul loads and to deliver all the extra food to people. It was rewarding to be able to help people out so much.Now, and before that time, I grow a large garden, with vegetables and berries. I accept food from my sister’s large garden. We pick wild blackberries from the field. We have chickens for eggs. I get fruit for free when availabe, like the many, many pounds of peaches I picked lately from my sister’s orchard when they were done u-picking (in addition to those she gave me when they were still open) There were a lot left and she called me to let me know. I agree with all those who are saying that when it’s available, drop everything and get it. I’ve been processing peaches for the freezer early and late, because we are way too busy around here, but they won’t be ripe, good quality, and available later when I have more time. Same for my garden stuff. I’ve been pickling, and canning beans every spare moment, and some moments that aren’t really spare because they got ready. When I can’t get fruit free, I u-pick it or go to a local farmer’s farmstand and get low prices. Then, I can or freeze it.

  15. My first solo (unsuccessful) canning project when I was about 6th grade was an attempt at crabapple jelly. We were living in the city and my cousin had come to stay for a few weeks. We wanted something to do so decided to make crabapple jelly from the apples on our tree. We fussed and fussed with those little apples and my mother sighed a lot. We never ended up with jelly, just a very large bowl of crab apple sauce.

  16. So I just read this post last night – then this morning, I woke up to an email about going over to a neighbors home to pick tomatoes and banana peppers. While I was doing that, she asked me if I would like to pick veggies from another garden across the street (our friend was out of town.) of course, I said yes. I was able to get 3 Walmart bags full of free veggies! Eggplant, bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapeño peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. While walking home, I met another mother and I shared some of the vegetables with. Such a blessing!

  17. I think it so important that for those of us that are able, we should plant more than we need. That way we have food to share and when the opportunities arise we can be the ones to offer it up. An older couple I know grow way more than they and their children’s families need, probably twice as much. They give at least half to the city food pantry. It keeps him and his wife happy and active. He even bought a little rolling dolly so he can load up his boxes of food to help in delivering. I was talking with a family from church about 5 years ago and they had no luck with their first attempt at a garden. Everything was going wrong and they were depending on the food as a supplement. I let them come to my house and pick what they could use for that week. They also asked a lot of questions, I gave some advice and we decided that she would borrow all my garden books, especially my Wisconsin Garden Guide and we would plan for next year. For the rest of the season every Sunday we brought them a bag of produce. The next spring when they started the garden they were much more informed, they knew that help was available if needed. She and the older girl came over and did some canning sessions later in the season. Now they have had a successful garden for a few years, the children are involved in a city 4H group. Sometimes we are not the gleaners , and sometimes it is our knowledge and experience that others can glean from us, if made available. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have….Heb 13:16

  18. Hi Pam!I’m in the Sacramento area and would love to hear more about this group. I will do a Google search and hopefully one day we’ll be able to meet and do some work together for the better of the Food Bank and our families!

  19. I have stopped at stranger’s houses and asked to pick fruit that was falling off their trees and rotting in the yard. I’ve never been turned away. Most people would rather it not go to waste. In our part of Texas, there are a lot of pecan trees. Pecans are available for anyone to pick up. I always have extra garden produce to offer, but very few people take my offer. I think I’ll post on freecycle or Craigslist this year, and see if I have more success sharing.

  20. FYI shows where any fruit tree in a public area grows. You can search by type of fruit or just your geographical area and forage for free 🙂 New trees get added all the time, since it’s a public map. Usually there’s a description as to exactly where the trees are (sometimes they’re in a hard to see spot) but they are definitely on publicly accessible land so it’s completely legal to pick fruit from them! Enjoy!

  21. I have been inspired by this, and have just posted to several FB groups, as well as on Craigslist that I am willing to harvest other families’ gardens if they are unable and split the bounty, or glean a farm/garden after the initial harvest has taken place. I’m curious to see how this works and what type of response I get from people.

  22. Hi,

    I have just found this site and am extremely excited by it. I would like to mention when gleaning not to forget about the bounty in your native environment. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and we can glean mesquite pods from desert trees to make mesquite flour, cactus fruit to make jelly and juice, cholla cactus buds to roast, chamomile in the desert in spring, certain types of edible weeds during their season, tart apples, jojoba seeds, piñon seeds, etc. granted your competing with a lot a much more intelligent animals, but our family enjoys these adventures. It is amazing the bounty of nature. It helps to become familiar with your environment and join groups that may be able to guide you as to where the best locations are. Great way to spend a weekend with the family.

    Thank you for all the inspiration,

    Carolina Perez

  23. Hi Brandy,

    I’ve been reading your blog for years but have only now commented! This post on gleaning has helped me so much to open my eyes to the food around us being wasted and available for free. We’re paying off our $245,000 worth of debt (We paid off $100,000 in less than 3 years) and so I just started my own blog to document our journey. I wanted to let you know that I linked my readers to your site and this post about gleaning at my site:

    Hope you can take a look! Your site has been such an inspiration to me when we were struggling, God Bless You!

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