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    On Gleaning

    We are sometimes asked what gleaning means, or how gleaning differs from harvesting.

    Indeed, we often use the two words interchangeably – both referring to the act of gathering foods from managed fields (as opposed to foraging, which is gathering foods from the wild).

    But there is a big difference between the two.

    Gleaning is biblical concept which refers to the act of gathering foods (grains, vegetables, fruits) from a managed field that is not your own. In the biblical period, the poor and needy were permitted to go onto neighboring fields and collect enough food for their own consumption. Not enough to sell and do commerce with, not enough to stockpile their pantry, but enough for a day or two so that they and their families wouldn’t go hungry.

    The field owners did this not as an act of magnanimity or philanthropy but as their obligation. The poor, in the biblical world, held a partial claim against the goods and wealth that come from the land. Thus, the community as a whole had an obligation to feed the poor, and those with land were obliged to allow the poor to come and gather for themselves.

    This was neither gift nor handout. The poor were not given this food; no one else harvested it for them. They had to work for their food by gleaning – which provided an element of dignity, a sense of ownership and a sense of earning what they got.

    Even more, through this modest expression of shared ownership, the landowner was reminded that he in fact did not fully possess his property or even the produce upon it; that in a sense, he is beholden to powers greater than he, powers he does not control or possess (like earth, soil, water, air as well as people who help create the safe society and economy in which he functions) that are responsible for his success. His work and his land are part of a great economy of the commons that he is temporarily using. And in return, he has the obligation to share its abundance and its yield with those less fortunate in his community.

    Harvesting, by contrast, is when an owner gathers the produce of his or her own field, or when someone is hired to gather it for them.

    The BOP is somewhere in between. We glean, in the sense that we gather fruits from trees that others own, but we then give the fruit to those in need. And while this is good, we hope to move to real gleaning, by planting fruit trees and food forests in the midst of food deserts, close enough so that those in need can gather for themslves. But even more, we want to create harvesters, so those now in need may plant their own orchards and food forests on lots of land close by them, and gather their produce for themselves. As well as remember the obligation to share it with others.


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