Gleaning, West Palm Beach, FL
For the last six years, West Palm Beach Sai Center has participated in a gleaning service project about 3 to 5 times a year starting in November and continuing through July. Gleaning is the act of collecting excess fresh produce left in the fields after the main harvest. Gleaning ensures that farm produce, considered undesirable for commercial use, is not wasted. Instead, it is gathered by volunteers and provided to local agencies with feeding programs for the homeless, the working poor or low-income individuals and families. Volunteers for the gleaning project are drawn from local partnership with churches/temples, clubs, schools, businesses and senior citizens groups. Within 48 hours of the picking, people in need are eating the fresh produce harvested through gleaning.
This service activity is coordinated with the CROS Ministries and Palm Beach County offices in Florida. According to CROS Ministries, the US Department of Agriculture reports that more than 96 billion pounds of farm produce is wasted each year, while about one out of every ten Americans scrapes by without enough to eat. In Palm Beach County alone, about 124,300 men, women, and children don’t have enough food. Thus, gleaning fulfils an important need for those suffering from food scarcity.
Palm Beach County usually notifies the Sai Center when the next surplus of fresh produce is ready to be gleaned. The CROS Ministries follows up with instructions to the volunteers. On the day of the service, volunteers, along with families and friends, meet at the designated venue around 8:30 a.m. CROS Ministries provides water bottles but volunteers usually bring additional juice pouches and snacks. After completing the waiver forms and receiving further instructions, volunteers start gleaning which takes about 3 hours to complete.
For each gleaning activity, there are usually about 8-10 adults and 6-10 children who participate from the West Palm Beach Sai Center. Sometimes, they are joined by members of the Fort Lauderdale Sai Center so there may be nearly 50 volunteers walking through the fields and picking whatever is in season.
Produce in season may include beets, tomatoes, green bell peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, potatoes, avocados, mangoes or strawberries. The produce is then distributed free of charge by the county to local hunger programs and food banks.
An adult volunteer commented, “Gleaning protects the planet and reduces pollution. If not picked in time, the farmer would burn the surplus crops. It helps us appreciate the effort that goes into growing fresh produce and reminds us to utilize everything efficiently by making pickles and sauces for long term use with perishable products.”
Some of the Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) Students of the West Palm Beach Sai Center shared their thoughts on gleaning. One student shared: “This is my fourth year participating in gleaning. Sometimes we box more than 1,000 pounds of tomatoes or green peppers in four to five hours. Imagine all that food wasted if we did not pick them. I am very happy we were able to help feed the poor. Now I understand the value of food and reasons for not wasting it. I appreciate Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings on Ceiling on Desires, particularly respecting Mother Nature and being grateful for the bountiful food She offers us.”
Another student reflected, “When you see the sheer quantity of food that would have been burned otherwise, it really makes you think that every small bit of food you throw away eventually adds up. Each morsel that we take for granted could be the only source of nutrients for a person for an entire day! Gleaning has taught me the true importance of not wasting food.”
Students should take great care to see that they do not waste food. They should take only what they need and not waste anything. This is the greatest service that they can do for the country. Everything should have a limit. To exceed these limits is very harmful. If you eat too much, that will cause mental derangement. If you eat sufficient food, it is good. You should not waste food, and you should share your excess food with others.
Sathya Sai Baba, Summer Course, June 04 1976