Preserving the Environment

How Salvaging the Food in Your Own Backyard Can Help Your Community and the Environment

August 1, 2014
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How Salvaging the Food in Your Own Backyard Can Help Your Community and the Environment
Gleaners, people who salvage food that would have gone unharvested, have been able to save lots of food from going to waste. Getty Images
Gleaners are knocking on doors to pick up garden produce before it goes to waste.

Growing up, your parents always told you: “Eat all the food on your plate because you’re fortunate enough to have a meal.” While they certainly were talking about the broccoli and quinoa that you were just pushing around, for example, what about all the food going to waste in your backyard?

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), 33 percent of the food grown is tossed without being consumed. Even worse, when such food rots in a landfill, it produces up to 10 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, according to the UNFAO. Grist reports that if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

So how does this relate to you? The fruit tree or vegetable garden in your backyard that goes unharvested year after year is contributing to the problem.

But gleaners can help.

Gleaners — people who salvage food that would have gone unharvested — walk residential streets and alleyways looking for trees full of ripe fruit. According to AlterNet, modern day gleaners knock on doors and ask if the homeowners will be harvesting the food. If the answer is no, they ask if they can pick the fruit and keep it.

Fruit taken by gleaners can be frozen, juiced, turned into jam or dehydrated. Ari LeVaux, a gleaner who writes a food column for AlterNet, says she prefers dehydrating the fruit because it’s simple and doesn’t involve extra ingredients. Vegetables can also be attained by striking deals with farmers who are ready to turn their fields under in the fall.

“Sometimes the grower will invite me to come glean it myself, old-school style,” LeVaux writes. “But more often they’ll offer to harvest a massive amount and sell it to me at a bargain rate. Technically speaking, food that’s acquired in this manner isn’t gleaned, but recovered. Either way, it’s food that wasn’t wasted, and by filling bellies it puts less demand on a carbon-intensive, land-hungry food system.”

If you’re feeling ambitious and would rather take it upon yourself to gather food for the hungry and to help your environment, you can find more information using Falling Fruit’s website. The organization is currently building a worldwide database of urban edibles, so you can check out what’s growing in your neighborhood. (A smartphone app is currently under development.)

So whether you’re a homeowner with unwanted food in your backyard or a prospective gleaner getting ready to pick, remember that such a method can not only feed the hungry in your community, but it can also limit the number of carbon emissions your backyard is producing.

“This is such a solvable issue,” Dana Frasz, a gleaner, told Grist. “Tackling it effectively will have ripple effects on these areas that are so important to the climate, to our communities and to the world.”

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