Gleaning up the food system

Gleaning apples

Nick Haigh, Coordinator of Bristol Gleaning Network, shares some of the work the network is doing to glean surplus fruit and vegetables from farms in and around Bristol. Nick is looking to connect with local food projects who can benefit from the redistribution of this food, as well as from producers and potential volunteers.

Globally, we produce enough food to feed nearly 10 billion people, and yet there are almost one billion people in extreme poverty going hungry. We can’t sit still and watch this happen – there is far too much food going to waste.

Bristol Gleaning Network

Gleaning is an activity where volunteers harvest human edible surplus from farms. The Bristol Gleaning Network (BGN) gleans surplus fruit and vegetables from farms in and around Bristol and redistributes them to local food projects who are working to feed young and vulnerable people. We have donated food to fantastic local community projects, including the Coexist Community Kitchen, FOOD Clubs, The Vench and BASE and Roses.

Since September 2020, we have saved over two tonnes of fresh produce that would otherwise have gone to waste. Local farms have been very encouraging of our efforts to redistribute their produce. The Community Farm in Chew Valley, for example, has been a huge supporter since our beginning and have proactively called us when they have crops they can’t harvest or sell.

How it all began…

I’m Nick, the founder of the Bristol Gleaning Network. My interest in food began by looking at the sustainability of eating meat, which led into a wider interest in our food system and the challenges of its industrialisation.

In September I started the Practical Sustainability Course with Shift Bristol CIC and my perspective changed from feeling a bit lost, to feeling empowered and ready to be an active agent in shaping the food systems we want to see in the world. It has also highlighted the importance of community-led, human-scale action.

BGN was set up thanks to an organisation called Feedback – a UK charity whose focus is on transforming our food system. The Gleaning Network UK is one of Feedback’s campaigns to tackle food waste at the farm level. We are delighted to be taking this pioneering initiative into Bristol’s community.

Why is food wasted on a farm?

It is estimated that in the UK we waste about a third of the food we produce. There’s a big focus on growing more and more, but a better solution might be to simply feed more people with the food that’s currently wasted.

Surplus food becomes waste for all sorts of reasons. At the farm level, there is surplus when standards deem a veggie too ugly or when there is a glut from systematic overproduction. I see a lot of the causes to be systemic and are the result of an over-commodified market that no longer values farmers or food itself.

After the farm, a huge amount of food is wasted in our own homes, and I think a key driver of food waste stems from how detached we are from how our food is grown. Gleaning is also about getting people onto the land – reconnecting us with where our food comes from and how it’s produced.

Bristol Bites Back Better

In an ideal world, no food would go to waste – but bountiful yields or damaged produce mean that there will always be some. My vision is to help connect producers with the brilliant organisations helping to feed our city, and vice versa.

Part of being a sustainable food city depends on reducing the amount of food we waste. It is vital that we ensure the food we produce – and which a lot of time and energy has gone into – is not sent to landfill, and gleaning will be a fundamental part of this. We need your help!

Join us!

A typical glean will involve getting dirty in the fields – cutting or picking fruit and veg such as kale, swede, cabbage, apples – and then there’s the redistribution afterwards. It’s good fun and I make sure we have a laugh – otherwise what’s the point?

For volunteering opportunities, sign up here! If you’re a producer or are involved in a food project and looking to connect, then drop me an email at Find us on Facebook and Twitter too.

Did you know that 20,000 tonnes of food waste is thrown into Bristol’s black bins every year? Find out why it’s so important to reduce the amount of food we waste and check out Bristol Bites Back Better resources and activities designed to fight food waste in the city.

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