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Gleaners Pantry: Waste not, want not

Sep 6th, 2014 | Category: Community

by Kate Ferry

The term gleaner is ancient and loosely defined as someone who picks up the grain left in the field by the harvester. Today, a gleaner is a person who takes advantage of food that would otherwise end up in the compost bin or garbage because it is surplus stock, just passed its expiration date, slightly dented,  bruised or possibly out of season.

One local organization focused on this process is Gleaners Pantry, a member-driven non-profit group located north of Ferndale.

Working out of an old farm stand from the 1970s, the property north of Ferndale is part of a larger organic farm that has been in existence for generations. The members of Gleaners Pantry work together as a co-op to keep volunteer driven organization going, offering three scheduled gleans per week. The shop glean begins with the load of product and perishable items arriving and ready to be sorted. The food is divided into bins and anything that is not fit for human consumption is given to members as feed for livestock. After the sorting is completed, rules for fair distribution are outlined and the “shopping” begins.

The method of Gleaners Pantry is unique because they fill a gap that exists within the gleaning community by working closely with the food banks and collecting from stores on days when the food banks cannot pick up.

Genny Throop, Gleaners Pantry’s elected president, estimates the current membership at just over 90 families with that number growing weekly. The variety of food and household goods available at each glean is ever-changing.

“My family has gotten the opportunity to try things like mangos, apricots, ginger, butternut squash, mustard greens, kale and a variety of breads,” said member Charlene Wright.

Another member, Jenny Funderberg, said she became a gleaner to help out with her food budget. “I have stayed for the endless possible shopping offers. Each week you never know what wonderful fruits or veggies might be waiting at the shop or in the field,” she shared.

Each member is required to pay a membership fee of $150 per year or $16 per month and can shop one glean per day. In addition to the membership fee, there is an expectation that all members must volunteer a total of two hours per month.

Another member, Cathy Littrell, said, “Gleaners, literally sustained one of our families through a four month lull in business. She added, “I think my favorite, most rewarding part of gleaners is when members tell me that without gleaners they would have done without many fruits and vegetables.”

With an average donation from the regular stores, members can leave each glean with upwards of $100 in product, including produce, baked goods, bulk food and shelf stable pantry items.

“I can [and] put up approximately 40 cases of veggies and fruits each year for the winter, most coming from gleans,” said Genny Throop, Gleaners Pantry member and elected president. “[I estimate] my family of four saves $200 to $400 a month on basic food items like bread, fruit, veggies, canned and boxed goods.”

The group also offers resources such as an on-site lending corner filled with books about food preservation and canning, as well as kitchen tools including a dehydrator, pressure and water bath canners and veggie and meat grinders.

“To me [being a gleaner in the 21st century] is being able to bring some of the older forgotten ideas and skill into this modern age where everything is handed to you nice and ready to go. Being a gleaner, we do not get [the] pick of the things but we make it work and sometimes make it better than it was before,” said Jenny Funderburg.

The motto of “Waste Not, Want Not” is the foundation of group, and each glean begins with a reminder that “Our group is run with a thankful attitude and a thankful heart.”

There is a full circle approach and definitive goal that what comes in goes out and there will be no waste at the end of each glean. “By rescuing apples and oranges and cucumbers, one bad spot or squishy bit at a time, you learn to look beyond perfection, and to be grateful,” member Meagan McGovern said. “And, surrounding yourself with a community of people who see the world the same way can become a very powerful force for change.”

For more information about Gleaners Pantry, including membership or donations, visit thegleanerspantry.com. Contact thegleanerspantry@gmail.com or via phone at (360) 483-4337.

Published in the September 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

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