Saturday, December 8, 2012

Food for Thought

Some of you may remember back in the spring I was watching the fields across the road from our house and noted they were hilled up for potatoes.


I was pretty excited as I had been told that any leftover potatoes after harvest were free for the taking.  I haven't planted any potatoes in my own garden as they take up a large amount of space.  So I watched as the plants grew tall, flowered and began to wither.


Finally at the end of October the tractors and trucks showed up.  Late into the night they rolled back and forth and by the next day it was all over.  I told Jody to go load up while I was at work before we had a freeze.

So off he went with a bucket.  But when I came home that evening I was surprised to see only a few potatoes for dinner.  Jody said he didn't want to take much as it didn't look like the work was done.  There were potatoes all over the ground and he thought they couldn't possibly be all waste so we decided to go back when the farmers were finished.

We waited and no trucks showed up.  Curious I went over the road to investigate.  This is what I saw.


I have to tell you I was more than a little shocked.  This is just one field.  There are many more just like it in the near vicinity and they all look like this.  Despite all I know about farming and farms I had not anticipated this amount of waste and it made me a little ill.

There is enough food here to feed our entire village for a winter.  Laying on the ground and rotting.

During these tough economic times I am hearing constantly about shortages at food banks, the rising cost of food, and the stresses of families faced with feeding many mouths.  All while potatoes are rotting in fields all around us.  I'm struggling with reconciling how this could be possible.

Mechanization and efficiency has changed farming in many ways.  Fields and farms have become larger, the equipment bigger.  Potatoes too small to be handled by machinery fall through the cracks, literally, and stay in the field.  It is too costly and inefficient to handpick this crop where machines cannot reach it.  Food has become big business and what doesn't provide quick monetary gains falls to the side but still - this is food we are talking about.

What sort of world is this when we throw food away by the truckload while there are lines at the foodbank hoping for whatever can be spared?

33 comments:

  1. Hi Marguerite: I will be shocked also if this is how our fields will look after the machinery goes through for the potatoes. We will certainly be picking up all we can and sharing with everyone who wants them..We live in such a "throw away" society, it's such a shame..I can't understand people not walking the fields and filling up a bag! I hope you went back and got a lot more..Merry Christmas Lannie and Jim

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    1. Lannie, I wondered too why we were the only ones in our area who seemed to be out collecting potatoes. With so much laying there I would have thought everyone in the community would have been filling bags. We managed to collect several boxes and I have them stashed with my dahlia bulbs. It wasn't much really but will likely last us months as its just the two of us.

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  2. Here in the Okanagan they have a society of volunteers called the Gleaners...they will come and pick any leftover fruits and veg. Then it's taken to their facility and turned into instant soup mix that is sent overseas to the needy. It's a great program, and a wonderful use of resources that normally might just rot.

    I am shocked that they would leave so much behind, it's no wonder the cost of food is skyhigh.

    Jen

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    1. Jen, I'm so glad you mentioned gleaning. I actually did some research online when I saw the condition of the fields and stumbled onto this topic. Seems there are a number of communities where sort of action takes place. It makes so much sense but I gather there is some government red tape surrounding food that can make it difficult. Good point about food costs. When you have that much waste product in a business your costs ultimately will be higher.

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  3. Remember that Bible story of Ruth gleaning among the alien corn - and how unlikely that sounds to today's ears?! I read that some food banks battle with contributions from Grow an Extra Row - the hungry don't know how to prepare fresh produce. From my own selfish experience, we prefer the convenience of say a box of grapes to the vines we had at the rental house.

    But - food + hungry should = gleaning.
    Our family has a culture shock story. My niece moved to America. Her daughter told her friend 'Have to go home, mom's making dinner' Friend said 'Can't you afford takeout?'

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    1. Diana, it's awful but I'm not surprised to hear that Grow a Row has difficulties. I work in Social Services and often one of the problems facing families there is lack of skills, such as cooking. Making a healthy meal is no longer a basic skill that everyone is capable of. Or as you point out in your story, it is regarded as something only poor folk would do.

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    2. Some more comments are feeding thru where I shared your post on Google Plus
      https://plus.google.com/u/1/103958562190125161194/posts/BXvm5ythFYb

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    3. Diana, I've never used Google Plus. What a neat tool. I'm glad this post is getting out. If we know more about how our food system works we can work to remedy it.

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  4. Oh my, this seems like a source that should be used. SAD.

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    1. Lisa, I agree. It is so incredibly sad. Standing in that field I just couldn't fathom how that could all be left behind.

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  5. I am fascinated by Jen at Muddy Boots' comment about the gleaners. Could that work in other areas I wonder?

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    1. Laurrie, if you search gleaning on the internet you'll actually find there's tons of information out there about groups across the States. (I'm wishing I had written about that now! another post maybe..) However, where fresh food is concerned our food regulations come into play and while some places are making it work it seems others struggle. Regulation is meant to be helpful but it seems more and more it only benefits large corporations and kills local and organic food supplies.

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  6. Am so pleased to learn of "The Gleaners" from Muddy Boots' comments which took me on a google adventure of learning. It is during this special time of year,everyone tries especially hard to support food banks. Reading about the waste in the fields near you, which is possibly the same view in all mechanically farmed fields on PEI, is disheartening, to say the least.

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    1. Brenda, so glad you had a chance to google this topic. It's fascinating isn't it? As you point out, considering the time of year and the economic hardships the maritimes are facing right now it's a horrible irony that food is gone to waste. Our own community has raised a large amount of money recently benefiting the food bank but it seems ridiculous considering we have fields full of food that we're ignoring.

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  7. It is truly sad how much food we waste. I hope you will pick up all the potatoes that you can, and if you can't eat them all, give them to a food bank. It's a shame (and a blessing, too, I suppose) that we have so much food that we don't find much value in it. But I had no idea so much would be left behind to waste, when there are some that will go hungry tonight.

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    1. We gathered all we could but it's hardly a dent in what's out there. Like you I just had no idea it would be so much left behind. I supposed there would be some but it was almost like nothing had been collected at all. I guess it depends on gathering conditions year to year (it was quite muddy this year so difficult for machinery to get in) but even just one year of this much left behind is too much in my opinion.

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  8. It's horrible how much food we waste, and not just in farmers fields. Take a look inside the dumpsters behind restaurants and supermarkets. Food is not the only thing we waste..... Interesting to hear about gleaners.

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    1. Good point Melanie. Grocery stores are notorious for dumping food and it seems to me I've heard that it's illegal to actually pick through their garbage and collect it. As my mother would say - this world is going to hell in a hand basket.

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    2. Woolworths, the supermarket we prefer to shop at, has a system. Food that is dated between Sell By and Best Before, is given to charity.

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  9. Hard to understand how it would make sense for the farms to leave all that on the ground. It reminds me how in the Old Testament farmers are commanded to leave the gleanings in the fields for the poor. Only thing is the hungry generally are not able to get out to these fields. Glad to hear about the volunteer program you mentioned.

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    1. Good point Jason. What is left in these fields is free for the taking, which is wonderful. But how many people are able to get to those fields? We only knew we could take what was there as a couple of local folk let us know.

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  10. Oh my goodness. I had no idea. I am certain there are horrible things like liability and insurance, etc. to be considered. (My friends call me Debbie Downer.) Such good things could happen if folks could just do the right thing.

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    1. Tufa, I think you're right. There are a lot of regulations when it comes to food. We want our food to be safe which makes perfect sense. But when it means dumping food I question how far we've gone.

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  11. Wow, what an eye opener! The more aware we all become of situations like this, the more change will occur. Thanks for shedding light on the problem. I love the idea of the "gleaners" and feel especially strongly that education is key to helping people learn how to prepare simple food. It seems a good, old fashioned course in home ec would be valuable to teach basic life skills.

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    1. Thank you Cat. I felt I needed to share this. Wondered if folks would be as surprised as I was. Seems many are.

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  12. good morning, marguerite .. what an opportunity for you to see the irony in our present day situation .. on the one hand, crying poor, on the other, pitiful waste .. it's remarkable isn't it, when so much wasted food could be used for hungry people .. on a smaller scale, i note such waste in the fall as we pass fruit trees laden with beautiful apples, especially, that are just left to fall and rot .. here's where i see a need to teach people the art of gleaning .. where gather food may be natural to some of us, others have no idea it is even there .. thanks for this enlightening post ..

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    1. Jane, what really gets me is how we have major food problems right now. There is high unemployment here and food banks are discussing the rising number of families requiring aid. There's a solution staring us in the face it would seem but why is it not being accessed?

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  13. can't answer that one, marguerite .. somehow we blind ourselves to what is available right in front of us .. get caught in what we don't have instead of realizing what we do have .. even here in our community garden (such a small part of it all .. ) i have to keep reminding people to come and harvest the food ..

    my idealistic mind sees gardens and growing food as an answer to hunger and unemployment .. hmmm .. how do we begin ..

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    1. I think part of it is a disconnect with our food. So many don't even realize where food comes from anymore. If it isn't on a store shelf they don't trust it.

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  14. I'm horrified. At the very least I would hope that the "spare" potatoes would be well advertised locally so that lots of people could take advantage of the ridiculous wastage of modern farming. Of course consumers are partly to blame, they want cheap potatoes of good even size...

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    1. Janet, maybe that is part of the issue. We would never have known about taking this food had not a couple of locals let us know. It's possible that others are unaware they can collect this food.

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