'Gleaners' pick leftovers from farmers' fields to feed themselves — and others

The P.E.I. Food Exchange harvests leftover produce from commercial farmers' fields. The produce is shared among the volunteers, the farmer and Island service agencies.

One third goes to volunteer, a third goes back to the farmer, and a third to a service agency

Volunteers harvest cabbage at a field in Miltonvale, P.E.I. — after the farmer has already completed his own harvest. (Karen Mair )

The cabbage and turnip has already been harvested from the field in Miltonvale, P.E.I., but with permission from the farmer, a group of volunteers is picking through the leftovers.

It's called gleaning. And it's helping to address food insecurity on P.E.I.

"Knowing we were a farming community we sort of suspected there would be a lot of produce left in the fields," said  Pauline Howard, the harvest co-ordinator of the PEI Food Exchange.

"So we made a call out on Facebook and asked if any farmers would be interested and almost immediately the farmers responded." 

Pauline Howard says she reached out to farmers on Facebook and they responded almost immediately. (Karen Mair )

It works like this: anyone who helps with the harvest gets one third, a third goes back to the farmer — if they want it — and one third goes to service agencies such as the Salvation Army.

Knowing we were a farming community we sort of suspected there would be a lot of produce left in the fields.- Pauline Howard

On this day, the volunteers gathered 1,405 kg — or 3,100 lbs — of produce.

Howard said it fits with the food exchange's motto of "help yourself while helping others."

"So people who come to the Salvation Army every day for their coffee hour will be able to collect the cabbage and the turnip and take it home with them," she said.

Grace Kim says gleaning not only saves on the grocery bill, 'it's good for mental health and physical health.' (Karen Mair )

The gleaners range from university students to seniors — "whoever likes food," Howard says.

Many are newcomers, such as Grace Kim. She says there are many benefits to gleaning — besides helping with the grocery bill.

'Good for mental health'

"It's good for mental health and physical health and your family's heath also," she said while cutting the base off a huge cabbage.

"Children will learn when they look at mom or dad cooking with the fresh ingredients." 

The fresh cabbage will help feed people at places like the Salvation Army.

Kim has been gleaning quite regularly since moving from to P.E.I. from South Korea four years ago.

"I had so much fun from the very first day. We gleaned a lot of kinds of vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, herbs — most of the kinds of vegetables on the Island."

'It was my most fun'

And sometimes she'll find something more unusual, like the time she was gleaning at a farm in York.

"It was my most fun, we got all kinds of exotic hot peppers, some I didn't even know."


Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.