Interview With Milwaukee “Gleaner” Felicia Hobert

Godsil: Might you share with us what it means to be a gleaner and why gleaners are important?

Hobert: Gleaners (individuals who harvest marginalized fruit, vegetables, etc), demonstrate a different way of interacting with the space around us. In Glean Milwaukee’s programs, volunteer gleaners harvest fruit, mainly apples and pears, from fruit trees around the city. Volunteers are invited to keep the fruit for themselves or their families, but in many cases, the fruit is harvested and then driven to a food pantry close by. The feedback from the food pantries has been overwhelmingly positive. In every case, the fruit is gone almost as quick as it came! Fresh, sweet fruit is always a hit, and it is a win-win for everyone: the homeowner receives help in harvesting the fruit, the volunteers (gleaners) build community with each other and get healthy fresh air and exercise, all while rescuing fruit that is often otherwise thrown away. The food pantry patrons are then able to gain access to fresh fruit! In some cases, a volunteer will can a large amount of the fruit for their family to enjoy for the rest of the year!

Gleaners demonstrate a different way to interact with the green spaces in our own backyards, along our streets, and even institutions around the city that still have fruit trees, such as the Zablocki Veterans Center. Homeowners sometimes buy a house in winter or spring, and are very surprised to see a tree in their backyard suddenly bearing an abundance of apples or pears! Often, the homeowner doesn’t know what to do with the amazing amount of produce, and sometimes homeowners feel unable to keep up with the harvesting. In these cases, the fruit tree becomes a nuisance and perhaps even a danger, as fruit left underneath the tree attracts wasps (especially pears with their soft skins). If the homeowner is unable to keep up, this can also lead to a decrease in fruit quality over the course of several years, as various insects use the fallen fruit as a location to breed and increase their numbers. Often, these are the same insects you might find burrowing inside of an apple or pear! If the tree does indeed become infested, it is a sad affair, as the people that come across the infested fruit often think “well, growing fruit trees is a futile endeavor - the fruit is always infested!” As a gleaner harvesting fruit trees in backyards, on institutional grounds, and along abandoned street and highway easements, I can testify that fruit that are harvested, by either people or animals fare better than trees that are not; however, I have seen fruit trees completely neglected in the city that bear perfect un-infested flesh. I have also seen the opposite - neglected trees that ARE completely infested. Regardless, we know that with a little care and harvest - fruit quality will undoubtedly increase!

Imagine a whole city full of apple trees! Families picking the trees in the fall and storing them in coolers, basements, or small root cellars — or perhaps canning them — and enjoying the harvest from their own yard, all year long — in the form of applesauce, apple pies, crumbles, and of course, whole for a quick lunch while taking a break from work! This is my vision, and gleaners show how this can be done and enjoyed!

Harvesting food is a special way to connect with nature, and with the primal part of ourselves, while increasing our food security.

Last edited by Felicia. Based on work by Godsil.  Page last modified on April 28, 2017

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