Saturday, 25 August 2012

Gleaning from the past

Contractors were harvesting potatoes in the field next to us yesterday and as is usually the case a lot of potatoes were missed by the machinery. I reckon that enough were left on the ground to feed the entire village for the year - if anyone could be bothered to pick them up. I grow my grow my own potatoes and don't really need any more but I spent 5 minutes picking up a large bag load from just a few metres inside the entrance to the field. I tried offering them to other people but no one wanted them and were certainly not prepared to pick up some themselves. I got the distinct impression that they were only comfortable with food that had been 'authenticated' by being sold by a supermarket - and I can understand why people are rightly concerned about what they eat.

Not so long ago, gleaning was an important privilege for country people and people depended on gleaned food for the winter. I suppose it is good that people are now so wealthy that they don't need to worry about paying for food but is still seems a shame to see so much food go to waste. I wonder how long it will be before rising fuel and fertiliser costs leads to people keeping an eye open for gleaning opportunities once again.

The potatoes rapidly went green in the bright sun and most are now too poisonous to eat.


  1. Dear John,

    You might be glad to hear I've met several modern-day gleaners (potatoes, onions, carrots) in Suffolk and there is national gleaning network, working with farmers, presently being set up by Tristram Stuart You can read about it in the food pages in the Transition Free Press:

    As with skipping and foraging, we have to break out of social conditioning and "good beheavoir" re. property to engage. But once broken, no stopping!

    I'm off to check out local cherry plums!

    All the best,


  2. strange, us "London incomers" would just think "free food"! (me and my mates had no issues with skipping either and even the cops didn't mind (heard them on the radio scanner in pre Airwave days saying it wasn't a crime as long as not linked to any other shoplifting and not worth despatching units to)?

    is this some kind of reverse snobbery thing to try and hide the "rural" roots of these communities?

  3. I think it is more basic than that - people are not comfortable eating something that they pick up off the ground. Potatoes should come pre washed in a plastic bag - I'm old enough to remember when potatoes and carrots were always sold with mud on them!

    These days, very few people living in villages work in agriculture and most fields are farmed by a succession of contractors who appear in some cases for just a few hours before moving on to the next farm. So the rural 'roots' of this village are very much forgotten - though the village sign is a picture of a man ploughing a field with a horse in front of the windmill (now a house).