Gleaning Results in Bountiful Harvest, Less Food Waste

harvesting sweet potato greens
Photo: Cheryl Kollin, Community Food Rescue

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.”

This passage from Leviticus 19:9 refers to the ancient practice of gleaning food after the harvest leaving food in the field for those in need. This ancient practice in spirit and deed are just as relevant today. In keeping with Community Food Rescue’s goal to feed more and waste less, we’ve partnered with University of Maryland Extension (UME),  UME Montgomery County Master Gardeners, and the Montgomery County Food Council to glean food that is not economically viable for commercial harvest.

Master Gardener gleaners
UME Master Gardeners, strawberry harvest. Photo: Cheryl Kollin, Community Food Rescue

This year, thanks to generous gleaning opportunities from Red Wiggler Community Farm, Butler’s Orchard, and Farm at Home, we’ve gleaned 248 lbs. of strawberries, 338 lbs. of blueberries, 32 lbs. of sweet potato vines, and 600 pounds of apples. The gleaned fresh produce was donated to Washington Grove and Sally K. Ride Elementary Schools, The Judy Center at Summit Hall Elementary School, and CFR network members.

strawberries in containers
Strawberries ready for distribution at Sally K. Ride Elementary School. Photo: Pam Hosimer

Sweet Potatoes: More than Just a Tuber

Blog excerpt courtesy of Red Wiggler Community Farm:

On August 20th, 2018 we invited a group of volunteers to our site at Ovid Hazen Wells Park to glean sweet potato greens. This project was a partnership between Community Food Rescue, University of Maryland Extension, School of Supplementary Nutrition Education, the UME Montgomery County Master Gardeners, and The Montgomery County Food Council. We welcomed the opportunity to have this group work with growers to harvest a portion of this plant that has historically been underutilized.

stripping greens of sweet potatoes
Photo: Cheryl Kollin, Community Food Rescue

Sweet potato greens have a surprising history in the Mid-Atlantic region of North America. Many Americans enjoy sweet potatoes during the holidays, as harvesting is at its peak from October to early December. While most associate eating sweet potatoes with the tuberous root portion of the plant, West African & Asian communities have incorporated the greens into their culinary practices for ages.

Like beet greens, the greens of sweet potatoes can be sautéed and prepared as a main or side dish. The leafy treats are packed with nutrients; in fact, they tend to hold three-times more vitamin B6, five-times more vitamin C, and close to ten-times more riboflavin than the root of the sweet potato.

Despite the apparent value of this part of the sweet potato, farmers often waste this part of the plant because of a lack of demand from commercial entities. Red Wiggler was thrilled to welcome our partner organizations to assist in delivering this super green to Shepherd’s Table, a nonprofit that has provided food to low-income families in Montgomery County for over 30 years.

Sweet potato greens being delivered
Community Food Rescue’s (CFR’s) Susan Wexler delivers sweet potato vines to Chef Christina Moore at Shepherd’s Table. Photo: CFR

Gleaning, Cooking, Eating, Sustaining

Shepherd’s Table Chef Christina Moore cooked the greens a few days after harvest as part of their chicken dinner for 120 people. “The guests loved them, and I got to try something new! Feel free to send any more our way!!”

Gleaning provides the opportunity to learn about modern-day issues in our community. Red Wiggler Community Farm Executive Director, Woody Woodroof joined the October 20th staff and gleaners for lunch and discussed food waste and food insecurity in Montgomery County. Woody summed up the big picture perspective of gleaning explaining, “partnerships like these allow Red Wiggler to give back while pursuing its long-term sustainability goals.”

Republished with permission from Community Food Rescue, with thanks to Program Director Cheryl Kollin and Outreach Coordinator Susan Wexler.

A Swede By Any Other Name

A Master Gardener friend who recently traveled to the UK brought me back a packet of seeds. Specifically, ‘Gowrie’ rutabaga seeds from a company called Mr. Fothergill’s.


Except because these are British seeds, they’re not called rutabaga, they’re called swede. The packet does include the botanical name of the plant (Brassica napus napobrassica) so if you’d never heard of swedes and didn’t recognize the picture, you could look them up – I hope all our American packets of rutabaga seeds do the same!

This got me thinking about vegetable names that separate us by a common language, or divide us by different ones, or in general confuse us. I’ll give a few examples below, and please tell your own stories of vegetable name mix-ups in the comments.

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Vegetable garden planning: what doesn’t start from seeds

As you’re planning your vegetable garden for this year, you’re probably thinking seeds, seeds, seeds. But not everything in the garden needs to begin with seeds. In some cases, plants started by someone else are a convenient or even economical choice. And some crops, like potatoes, are grown from last season’s tubers rather than from seeds.

Leek seedlings planted at the Derwood Demo Garden in spring 2017

Here are some crops you might consider giving a little head start by purchasing plants, tubers, bulbs, etc. Most of these will also be available in local garden centers in the proper season, but if you order them from seed companies now, you will have a much wider choice of varieties, and they will ship at the right time for planting.

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I Dig Sweet Potatoes!

It’s easy to forget about sweet potato plants. Once established and mulched they don’t require much from a gardener. They quickly carpet their allotted space, have few leaf and stem problems (see small holes from tortoise beetle feeding in photo below), and are drought tolerant. As the days shorten I start to think about fall dishes and desserts, and the sweet potato plants in my garden.

Websites and books tell you that sweet potatoes are ready to harvest 90-120 days after planting. But the only way to know for sure is to gently loosen the soil and take a peek. I did this on Labor Day and unearthed a few skinny roots. I returned with garden fork on September 16th and was happy to see that it was harvest time.

Step 1:

I located the main stem for each plant and cut all of the vines growing from the base of the main stem (crown). I like to insert a sturdy twig or stick of some sort next to each slip that I plant in the spring. It makes finding the main stem much easier!

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