Gleaning: UnWasted Food

The topic of food waste has been on our radar at the Halton Food Council, and we are not the only ones! While some countries, such as Italy, have developed policies, Canadian Bill C-231 Fight Against Food Waste Act passed through its first reading in February 2016. The bill aims to develop a national strategy to reduce food waste and to establish a Canadian Food Waste Awareness Day on World Food Day, October 16.

If you’ve read a previous post, you already know that approximately $31 billion worth of food is wasted each year in Canada, with a true cost of $107 billion. The majority or 47 per cent of food waste is generated in the home.[i] The average Canadian household wastes $30 of food per week.[ii] Food waste is generated in all stages of the food system. According to one report, 10 per cent happens at the production level which brings us to this month’s topic: Gleaning.

What is Gleaning?

Gleaning refers to “the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.”[iii]

The act of gleaning isn’t new, as you can see in the 1857 painting by Jean-François Millet. Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system. The activity is even “regulated” in the Bible. According to Leviticus, excess olives should be left “for the poor and for strangers”.[iv]


Jean-François Millet - Google Cultural Institute (public domain)

New Winds to the Gleaning Movement

Over generations and around the world, gleaning has come and disappeared with waves of abundance and austerity, and today it seems to be making a comeback as a celebrated form of resilience. In addition to reducing food waste, advocates of the new gleaning movements say that food collection “could reduce pressure on land use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve diets, feed the hungry and provide work for the socially excluded.”[i]

The modern gleaning movement is taking many forms: retailers offering “ugly” fruits and vegetables at reduced prices; the harvesting of fruit from city trees as in Halton through the Halton Fruit Tree Project, and the gathering of unsold produce from local farms and food business for redistribution through food agencies such as Food for Life in Halton.

Gleaning_apple picking_group_ed

Food for Life (aka Super Gleaners Extraordinaire)

As part of my new role as Community Food Network Manager at the Halton Food Council,

I recently visited the warehouse of Food for Life in Burlington where I received a guided tour by Brenda Hajdu, the Executive Director, and Meaghan Richardson, Food Procurement Manager, aka Professional Gleaner.

Meaghan points out that the Local Food Act (2013) has been very helpful in shaping to path of collaboration with farmers”. This act amended the Taxation Act, 2007 to create a non-refundable tax credit of 25 per cent for farmers who donate their agricultural products to eligible community food programs such as food banks.

In 2015, Food for Life provided 175,000 meals per month by sourcing 2.2 million pounds of perishable foods from local farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and many others. Brenda explains that food doesn’t stay long in the warehouse. “When dealing with fresh produce, dairy and meat, it’s all about logistics and timing.” A team of seven staff and 600 volunteers work behind the scenes with food donors and gleaners to distribute food to over 80 social agencies, food banks and programs across Halton. “We take great pride in working with Feeding Halton, a collaborative of social agencies and the agricultural community to source local produce and to coordinate gleaning of fruits and veggies in our own backyard,” says Brenda.

How You Can Help

Food for Life is finalizing its new website where you will be able to find the nearest food agency in Halton Region. The website is expected to be live next month.

[i] Neslen, A. (2016). Food waste: Harvesting Spain’s unwanted crops to feed the hungry. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[i] Gooch M. & A. Felfel. (2014). “$27 million revisited”: The cost of Canada’s annual food waste. Retrieved from

[ii] Uzea, N., Gooch, M. & Sparling, D. (2014). Developing an industry led approach to addressing food waste in Canada. Retrieved from

[iii] Gleaning. (2016, June 10). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 29, 2016, from

[iv] Ibid.