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Gleaners fill need by cutting down on waste.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The word "gleaning" conjures images of people scouring farms for crops that regular harvesters have left behind, but today's gleaners range much farther afield.

Lane County's 1,100 gleaners are as likely to gather salmon from fish farms and firewood from storm-downed trees as they are to comb local blueberry fields for leftover fruit.

And they aren't limited to commercial growers. Homeowners occasionally invite gleaners to harvest from backyard fruit trees or overproducing vegetable gardens - food that might otherwise rot on the ground, said Laurie Trieger, gleaning coordinator for FOOD for Lane County.

And every Friday, gleaners descend on the food bank warehouses, picking up perishables that won't survive the weekend.

Gleaning not only keeps food from being wasted, it gives people the opportunity to help meet their own needs, Trieger said.

"It's not intended to be your sole food supply, but for some people, they just won't access other emergency services. They pride themselves in putting in some effort," she said.

State guidelines require that gleaners have incomes at or below 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines - for example, $22,089 for a household of two. Individual groups have their own rules and some charge a small membership fee.

About 50 percent of the Sunshine Harvesters - one of four Lane County gleaning groups - are senior citizens, said coordinator Sally Asay, 62, of Eugene.

"They're used to hard work. They don't shrink from it, and they know what to do with the food," she said.

The seniors are often proficient at home canning and preserving, skills they're more than happy to pass on to younger gleaners, she said.

The groups are poised to develop a new set of abilities, Trieger said. After working under FOOD for Lane County's organizational umbrella, the agency has asked them to become independent - establishing their own nonprofit status or affiliating with some other nonprofit.

Such a move mirrors the statewide model - there are 30 gleaning groups in Oregon - and will give individual groups more control over their gleaning, while freeing up Trieger to do fewer administrative tasks, she said.

But the move will put a burden on low-income people who already have their plates full, Asay said.

Her group plans to team with the Springfield-Dexter Early Bird gleaners to form a non-profit called the Cascade Foothills Gleaners. The paperwork is in progress, but plenty of challenges remain, Asay said.

They need to find a place to meet. They'll have to do their own fund raising and accounting, keep track of the amount of food they glean and provide growers with the appropriate tax-break paperwork.

Asay worries that the additional burden will complicate an operation that is fairly simple right now: moving food from point A to point B and handing over the paperwork to FOOD for Lane County.

Gleaners don't only feed themselves, Asay said. Each group has adoptees, people too old or inform to do the work themselves. "Our adoptees are totally dependent on us to do this for them," she said.
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Title Annotation:Groups of gatherers relish the labor involved in feeding themselves and those less able; Food
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 30, 2003
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