The Gleaners

Gathering up after the harvest.



1/13/20233 min read

'Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse.'

Until I saw this wonderful film by the French film director Agnes Varda , I had no idea about the practice of gleaning. It is actually a right in France for people to gather up the remains of a crop after it has been harvested. I thought of this when we stopped to look at a vineyard not long after the mechanical harvesters had done their work. Everywhere we looked we saw bunches of small green grapes, slowly rotting away on the vines. Remembering the delight that Agnes Varda displayed for this practice, I wondered whether we shouldn't indulge in a little gleaning ourselves. Indeed there were enough grapes to keep our whole village supplied with home made wine for months.

But of course , whilst the idea was attractive, the task would not have been an easy one. Watching some of the gleaners working in the fields in Agnes Varda's film made me realise how hard it must be.

It surprised me to learn that there are many references to gleaning in the bible. And while it existed in England until the late nineteenth century, as well as in many other countries, it is still practised today in The U.S.A. where large scale gleaning practices are used by humanitarian organisations to provide food for the poor. I imagine though that this is a drop in the ocean, given the vast waste that commercial operators produce. Did you know that the collection of waste food from supermarkets for distribution is also referred to as gleaning? Now that is certainly a good thing to be encouraged.

Gleaning has a long history.

Today we went gleaning in the forest.

There has been a lot of harvesting in the forest recently. Not of food, but of the large pine logs that had been felled then stacked alongside the forest roads to dry out . Now an enormous lorry mounted with a crane has come to take the smaller trunks away, lifting them like neat bundles of pencils and swinging them high into the air. The larger trunks will stay for many more months until they have lost more weight.

In order to maintain the accessibility of the forest roads for these giant vehicles, and to minimise fire risk, the lower branches of overhanging trees have been lopped off by forestry workers. Of course the debris was itself a fire risk, so they have methodically reduced all the fallen branches into beautiful wood mulch, which lies in piles along the way. This is what we were after. Like ants that rush to gather up our crumbs after a picnic, we hastened to the forest to collect trailer loads of mulch to use on our vegetable plot. Just like the gleaners of yore, nothing will be wasted. And even though we weren't gleaning for food, it will soon be helping to produce a healthy crop of potatoes and much more next season.

P.S. Any indication that B. is the sole worker in this operation is entirely spurious. Someone had to take the pictures.