Tag Archives: American Farm Bureau Federation

Tucked between central Washington’s Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River lies Mike and April Clayton’s orchard. Each year, the Claytons and their two young children manage 80 acres of apples and 65 acres of cherries. They grow thousands of pounds of fruit that ends up in grocery stores as fresh and preserved foods.

But what happens to the fruit they can’t sell or donate? After each harvest, the Claytons invite their friends and neighbors out to the orchard to glean what’s left and celebrate the end of the growing season with cider parties. They enjoy sharing the fruits of their labors and ensuring the nutritious and fresh food they grow doesn’t go to waste.

The Claytons aren’t the only ones who use gleaning to fight food waste. More and more farmers and organizations are using this simple practice to turn potential waste into nutritious rewards.

Gleaning means to gather slowly and involves going out into fields after a crop has been harvested to pick up and enjoy what’s left. Each year, about 6 percent to 7 percent of planted crops in the U.S. aren’t harvested due to a variety of factors that do not affect food safety. Gleaning helps put that food on people’s plates, instead of adding it to landfills.

According to a study by Cornell University’s SC Johnson School of Business, the benefits of gleaning are twofold. It can improve the nutritional status of food insecure people by giving them access to fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously reducing food waste.

Most gleaning happens through organizations that work with farmers and volunteers to collect the food and donate it to food banks that serve the needy. Since food pantries are often oversaturated with canned and packaged foods, fresh, nutritious produce straight from the farm is very welcome.

The Society of St. Andrew provides a great example of how gleaning can be used to fight food insecurity and waste. For more than 35 years, farmers have been working with SoSA to bring volunteers to their farms to gather leftover produce. Sometimes farm families do the picking themselves and drop truckloads of food off for volunteers to deliver.

Each year, SoSA, its volunteers and farm partners prevent 30 million pounds of food from being wasted in landfills. In addition to its Gleaning Network, SoSA also coordinates Harvest of Hope and the Potato and Produce Project with the mission of bringing people together to harvest and share healthy food, reduce food waste and build caring communities by offering nourishment to hungry neighbors.

If you’re inspired to start gleaning in your community, check out the Agriculture Department’s Let’s Glean toolkit. It breaks down the process of starting a program with tips on how to seek farm donors, identify food shelf partners that accept fresh produce and recruit volunteers. You’ll also learn how to prepare for your first glean and the steps it takes to keep it growing.

Agriculture is a large economic driver for the state of Wisconsin, contributing $88.3 billion annually to the economy and providing 413,500 jobs, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Wisconsin is also the leading state for cheese production and home to 8,000 dairy farms – more than any another state.

During a recent trip to America’s Dairyland, I realized there’s much to learn about agriculture from Wisconsin farmers. A state with such a large agricultural influence provides a great perspective on the people involved, the values they hold and the challenges they face. Thanks to my visit to Wisconsin, I have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for American agriculture. Here’s why.

The resiliency and love of family that farmers demonstrate makes it clear that working in agriculture is much more than just a job.

  1. Farmers are resilient. They are working to overcome the economic difficulties of current times. Dairy prices are low and net farm income is at the third-lowest level in the last decade, behind 2016 and 2009. One of the farmers I visited said his farm is operating on a tighter budget than usual, which means he must be more resourceful than ever with equipment investments. To put things in perspective, he explained that this year’s profit for his family’s diversified farm would decrease by 25 percent. Yet, despite the hardships they face, farmers and ranchers will do what it takes to keep going until the hard times improve. They work until the job is done. Their passion will help them through.
  2. Family is important to those involved in agriculture. Today, 99 percent of U.S. farms are operated by families. Farmers and ranchers value working with their families and want to contribute to their family’s farming or ranching legacy. They want to pass their farms down to future generations and leave their land better than they found it. Stewardship and farm succession planning are priorities for those involved in agriculture. Passing a farm or ranch down to multiple generations can be complex and is one of the biggest challenges some farmers face.  The resiliency and love of family that farmers demonstrate makes it clear that working in agriculture is much more than just a job.
  3. Better support will help bring agriculture into the future. Wisconsin boasts many successful examples of support for agriculture. These include on-farm agritourism ventures, a culture of agricultural advocacy and a strong restaurant industry connection to farms. Agriculture advocacy organizations, like Wisconsin Farm Bureau, support farmers and ranchers and help advance their legislative priorities. Culver’s Restaurants, a burger chain launched in Wisconsin, increases awareness of farmers’ contributions to the company’s famous butter burger and frozen custard through a “Thank You Farmers” campaign. Culver’s also invests in the development of young  people, through a partnership with National FFA. This is in addition to helping revitalize rural America by renovating barns.

These lessons learned from Wisconsin farmers about agriculture and the lifestyle it supports are invaluable as efforts continue to sustain advance this important industry.