Gleaning: Reducing Food Waste from Farm to Table

Dave Laskarzewski, co-founder of UpRoot. (Photo Credit: Sarah Dalgleish)

The USDA estimates that over 133 billion pounds of food is thrown away in the United States every year. As KGNU Sarah Dalgleish reports, one local organization is working through the coronavirus pandemic to reduce both food waste and food insecurity in the state.

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Dave Laskarzewski and Ciara Low founded UpRoot Colorado in 2016. The organization leads gleaning efforts in which they harvest excess crops from local farms then donate the produce to nearby hunger relief organizations and food pantries.

Laskarzewski views gleaning not only as an opportunity to prevent food loss and relieve hunger, but also to educate the community about the importance of agriculture.

“When we go to farms to ask them if we can glean, we are asking for something for free. Now it’s going to hunger relief, it’s engaging volunteers and community, it’s generating food wisdom, which is reconnecting people with where a large portion of their food originates, which is the soil, but it’s important to be mindful that farmers are donating this,” he explains.

Agriculture is often unpredictable, resulting in excess crops on farms. Low elaborates on how UpRoot addresses those problems by working to pay farmers for the food the organization harvests.

Corn gleaned at Munson Farms in Boulder. (Photo Credit: Sarah Dalgleish)

“As is the way with farming, you can have a plan but you can’t necessarily predict exactly how much of each crop you’re going to get in any given year. So those contracts are somewhat flexible to allow for that natural variation and to work with farmers. On the Front Range, the mobile farm workforce is in its third year and they are working to provide mobile, on-farm labor when farms need it because that is one reason surplus occurs is a lack of labor around harvest time in particular.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the unpredictability of agriculture as farmers face new challenges and disruptions to local food systems, but UpRoot has adapted to CDC guidelines to continue gleaning through the summer. At their first glean of the season, about a dozen volunteers gather at Munson Farms to harvest corn. One of them was Joanne Dunnabeck, who explains her love of food drew her to the event.

“I’m a cook, I’m a baker, I’m a gardener and I really truly believe in the importance of feeding people. I think it just gives us a sense of how fragile life is, that we have to nourish the soil and the water and take care of the planet and here we are, harvesting the great things in life!” she exclaims.

Low says UpRoot has seen an increased interest from volunteers and the community in supporting local agriculture during the pandemic.

Corn gleaning at Munson Farms. (Photo Credit: Sarah Dalgleish)

“I’ve been very heartened and impressed at our local farms changing their models on the fly–a lot are increasing their CSAs. And there has been a parallel increase in demand for local food because There’s increased momentum in local food system interest that has also translated to an increase in donations, which has allowed us to greatly expand the amount that we’re able to purchase from local  farmers, and I would say that is certainly a silver lining.”

Laskarzewski hopes the pandemic can also serve as a reminder to appreciate the work of farmers and to make local food systems a priority.

He says, “I think it’s taught us to reflect on values and what’s important. Hopefully, we will continue to reflect on this moving forward and become more intimate with our food system and with the food that’s in front of us and be more grateful for it, throw away less of it, compost more of it, think about how we can use more of it, and support those in our communities that help generate it and bring it to us.”

KGNU is taking a deep dive into food waste throughout 2020 thanks to a grant from Boulder County and Elevations Credit Union