Monday, October 20, 2014

Making History: Gleaning for Community Development

The U.S. Department of Economic and Community Development says:

"CONGRATULATIONS to the State of Maine Department of Economic and Community Development for being awarded the 2014 COSCDA Sterling Achievement Award for Community Development for the Hancock County Gleaning Initiative" (DECD).

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development sponsored the Community Development Block Grant that enabled Healthy Acadia and UMaine Cooperative Extension to launch the Gleaning Initiative in 2012. The award was presented at the Annual Training Conference at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, and was bestowed during the Presidential Reception and Award Recognition Ceremony on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at the Boston Public Library. It was a small and beautiful event.

This might be the first time that gleaning efforts have been officially recognized nationally as an award-winning strategy for community development. However, gleaning has been on the national agenda before. Dan Glickman served as the United States Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001. Under the Clinton Administration, Glickman promoted Gleaning and Food Recovery by organizing conferences, passing The Good Samaritan Food Donations Act, and building a national network of gleaning organizations. We could probably trace a relationship between these national efforts and the success of Maine's Good Shepherd Food Bank food redistribution programs, as well as claim that the University of Maine Cooperative Extension put gleaning on their agenda as a product of these efforts. 

Should gleaning be national policy for hunger relief? If stripped of all its community-building, educational, and other value-added aspects, is gleaning, strictly economically speaking, worthwhile? (or sustainable?)
Some of the other gleaning organizations in New England such as the Boston Area Gleaners calculate the input-output ratio for each of their gleaning opportunities to decide whether or not to make the investment. There are overhead, gas, wear and tear on vehicles, time and effort, sorting and distribution costs, as well as a myriad of transaction costs to consider for gleaning opportunity; are those costs off-set by the pounds of food going to hungry people? Are we using speculative market prices to define value here?

Strategic management theory, based on economic decisions about the worth of any given gleaning opportunity, is one angle from which to consider the return on investment of gleaning. But in terms of what each gleaning opportunity produces, to put it in economic terms, there is a social and environmental return on investment (SROI and EROI) that needs to be measured first. I would even put my neck out to say that there is an emotional return on investment when the hopeful nature of gleaning raises the spirits of local farmers, pantry volunteers, non-profit organizers, policy makers, and the families of those who bring home fresh vegetables gleaned especially for them and/or by them, at the end of the day. 

I believe gleaning can make it back onto the national agenda, not only as a food waste prevention effort but also as a recognized award-winning community development strategy that puts the social, environmental and economic return on investment on an equal playing field.

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