Making a glean sweep of the parsnip fields - Sheen Grant’s latest thrifty move


Parsnip - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’ve been doing a spot of gleaning this week. No, that’s not a typing error. I really do mean gleaning (the cleaning will have to wait). I didn’t know I was gleaning at the time. I only discovered that later. Apparently, you can glean in a really organised way. Mine was an individual, rather haphazard affair: a spontaneous act brought on by overwhelming horror at what I was witnessing only a few yards from a friend’s back door.

I’m talking about the scandalous waste of food that goes on across the country - and probably the rest of the developed world too. This isn’t food that’s wasted after being bought, or thrown out by supermarkets on the ‘use by’ date (that’s a subject for another day). This is food that is wasted before it has even left the farmer’s field.

I’m at a loss to understand why it is happening, especially in a week when I’ve visited a Felixstowe charity that’s giving food parcels to a growing number of people who are so hard up they can’t afford to feed themselves. If any farmer out there could offer a reasonable explanation as to why so many unharvested crops are being ploughed back into the soil I’d like to hear it. Surely it would be better to give the food away.

These vegetables are all perfectly edible. I know because this week, after my gleaning antics, I’ve dined on parnips with my Sunday roast and made a huge vat of soup. The veg from the field near my friend’s garden was gleaned (with permission) when the harvest was over and just as the tractor and plough moved in. But what we managed to save was nothing compared to what was lost.

It’s a huge problem. Those in the know reckon up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested because of supermarkets’ exacting standards, overproduction and inefficiency of mechanical harvesters. All this while 5.8 million people in the UK are too poor to afford a decent diet.

This is where the ancient practice of gleaning comes in. A Gleaning Network has even been set up, co-oordinating volunteers, farmers and charities to harvest food that would otherwise be wasted and direct it to those in need. While the few parsnips I was able to save helped my thrifty ideals I know it wasn’t true gleaning - I can afford to buy food. But I wonder how many people are aware of the scale of this waste or even know it happens at all. Gleaning - as part of a network or after getting individual permission - is the way forward.

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