Gleaning More of New York’s Harvest

A new collaboration among farmers, Cornell University and New York’s food banks aims to increase the amount of gleaning, or food donated directly from farms to the state’s hungry.

FoodBank1 1dmdpah

Ariel Tavares, coordinator of the RECAP Food Pantry in Middletown, N.Y. Photo by Cornell Chronicle

Gleaning is an ancient concept, thought to date to Old Testament times, and carried through the medieval feudal system, when farmers and large landowners were encouraged or required by law to allow the poor to gather crops in the field after the harvest. In contemporary times, gleaning generally refers to volunteers collecting food from fields and donating the goods to food banks or pantries that serve the poor. Food may be left behind because of mechanical harvesting losses, cosmetic blemishes to the produce, lack of markets for the crops, and other reasons, including the desire to help others. Today, gleaning also refers to food donations out of farmers’ packing lines and storage houses.

New York farmers are no strangers to donating food. In 2010, New York farmers donated more than 5.6 million pounds of food, according to New York Farm Bureau.

“I would like this project to get bigger and bigger,” said Joan Smith, a dairy farmer from New Hartford, NY. Smith recruited five neighboring dairy farms, in addition to her own, to donate beef to the Food Bank of Central New York. The food bank used grant funds to pay the costs of processing and packaging the meat at a federally-licensed slaughterhouse, and to make deliveries to local food pantries.

Cornell’s gleaning project was launched in the summer of 2011, inspired by farmers who contacted Cornell about their interest in seeing an increase in donations of food from the farm. Recent projects and research tended to focus on the benefits of farm gleaning efforts to the hungry, but often overlooked the benefits and risks, especially liability, for the farmer. Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, and the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station collaborated on a research effort that reviewed gleaning efforts in New York State, including opportunities and obstacles.
Among the top findings is that strong interest exists in expanding gleaning efforts. This interest comes from many sectors: farmers, hunger relief agencies, agricultural advocates, and others. A few major limiting factors are: increasing knowledge about gleaning as an option, how to access gleaning programs, and suitable logistics for a successful gleaning effort. The logistical concerns include delivering food to those that need it most in an economically viable manner, ensuring food safety, and preventing farmers from incurring additional expense. The study also found that farmer liability, especially in allowing volunteer harvesters on private property, may be greater than many assumed.

FoodBank2 w8tkq5

Maria Bacigalupo, member of the 4-H group “The Awesome Achievers,” harvests apples at the Big Glean in Pennings Orchard in Warwick, N.Y. Photo by Cornell Chronicle

The United States has long been known as a land of plenty—and paradoxically, a nation where hunger continues to plague the population. The USDA estimated in 2009 that 14.7 percent of the population, or 17.4 million households, were “food insecure,” or “were, at times, uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all of the household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food.” Nationally, 5.6 million households, or 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, obtained emergency food from food pantries one or more times during the year, according to 2009 government data.

The eight regional food banks that comprise the Food Bank Association of New York State distribute food to 5,000 local food pantries, emergency food kitchens, low-income senior nutrition programs, and other hunger relief agencies. These efforts feed more than 3 million people annually, according to the Food Bank Association of New York State. Food banks typically receive food donations from grocery stores, food manufacturers, wholesale brokers and distributors, and the government, with lesser quantities of food coming directly from individual and group efforts such as local food drives.

Food bank directors said they are interested in New York farmers as sources of food for donation because the food is locally grown, farmers are perceived to be community-minded, and New York lacks the volume of food processing and manufacturing facilities that are sources of donations in other states. “We have got to go to the source to get food donations. The more money that is invested in the product (as it moves through the supply chain), the harder it is to get it donated,” said Peter Ricardo, director of special nutrition projects for the Food Bank of Central New York.

The majority of food donated from New York farmers is fruit and vegetables, but also includes dairy, eggs and meat. Food bank directors said apples, onions, potatoes, and cabbage were the bulk of donated produce, along with lesser amounts of tomatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, winter squash, and other items. “Generally the produce that is donated has been harvested, but not sold. It may come right from the packing line or cold storage,” said Joanne Dwyer, director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

The Cornell-led gleaning effort plans to launch a pilot project this spring, to expand gleaning in New York State. The project hopes to develop guides to make it easier for farmers to donate food.

Side Bar:
How farmers can donate:

Farms with larger quantity donations, such as several field crates or more, may be able to arrange on-farm pickup by a food bank truck. Some food banks have field crates available for farmers to use; in other cases, food banks may have funds to reimburse farmers for packaging costs.

Farms with smaller quantity donations may need to deliver food to a food bank, or local food pantry. Some pantries have volunteers who will pick up food at the farm.

To accept donations, food banks must have the ability to distribute or store food before the perish date. Picking up food at the farm requires adequate funds.

To find your local food bank or food pantry, contact the Food Bank Association of New York State or call (518) 433-4505.

Rebecca Schuelke Staehr

Rebecca Schuelke Staehr is a writer with NY Farm Viability Institute. She may be reached at (315) 453-3823 or For more information about the NY Farm Viability Institute, visit


  1. Avatar of Tom Jones Tom Jones on October 24, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    We are a small church in western NY who have had a gleaning program for several years. Volunteers from the church go out to farmers in the fall and pick up vegetables remaining in the fields, truck them to our church parking lot, and clean, sort out culls, dry, rebox and take to local food banks, missions, shelters, etc. In recent harvests we have been able to glean and deliver about 5-9 tons of good vegetables (potatoes, squash, carrots, cabbage, etc.). Our only expenses, other than time and a lot of manual labor, is the gas to run the old pick-up we have. Might there be any sources of mission support that we could seek out to help with this cost?

  2. Avatar of Nichole Nichole on October 31, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Are there any gleaning programs here in Herkimer, NY area?

    • Avatar of Tara Hammonds Tara Hammonds on November 1, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Nichole,
      Take a look at this list – it looks like the Salvation Army in Herkimer County has a gleaning program. Hope this helps!

  3. Avatar of Louis Smith Louis Smith on February 13, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    I am trying to start up an organization with my church. Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia NY. Could you please let me know what I need to start. Would like to involve the Youth Ministry. After collecting the food would present it to food banks or organizations that would benefit. We have many schools in our area with food banks in them. Would appreciate any help.

    • Kelsie Raucher on March 26, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      Hi Louis,

      I think it may be beneficial for you to reach out to the Food Bank Association of New York State at or (518) 433-4505.

      Good luck with your new venture!

Leave a Comment