Tipping, Skipping, Dumpster Diving… I’d rather call it Gleaning At the Catholic Worker Farm we have a weekly ritual; this is a story of my first time participating in it: Last night was a very nice night. After we ate a delicious lasagna dinner I made myself a cup of tea and settled in with Scott, Maria and Tanya to watch Into the Wild on the projection screen. We laughed, we cried, and when it was over Scott told us it was time. Tanya made a tea flask and I grabbed a granola bar, because, as you know, you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach.
We proceeded into a near town’s posh supermarket that Scott and Maria have previously had great luck at. Favorably, the gates were open. Quickly and quietly we jumped out of the car and opened the dumpsters (bins if you will) and were amazed. We found loads of fresh fruit and veggies, along with other random necessities. As the night went on, we stopped at two other shops finding potatoes, breads, fresh cut flowers, and cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products (the weather is cold enough for it not to spoil).
When we returned [this is the best part of the trip] the ladies were ready for us. Everything was put on the kitchen table to be sorted and inspected. Here we “oohed” and “awwwed” at our treasure. The regiment began with looking for holes—which required us to re-bin those goods. Anything passing the test was then put through bleach water, rinsed in fresh water, dried and put away. I kept a tally how much the goods were worth: over 140 pounds. This did not include the fresh fruits, veggies and (my favorite) three beers which were with out price tags.
Around 1am we set out for bed with visions of bleached plums, bananas, potatoes, and kiwis dancing in our heads.
The spirituality behind our work:
This ritual, which many might simply dismiss as mere tipping, is for us, a very spiritual occasion. When Scott, Tanya and I partake in this act we know full well that we have the capability of working hard to provide enough food for ourselves and our immediate families to survive. We each value the honesty in hard work. The work we do in the bins is not for the rush of finding our favorite foods still in good condition for free. We also do not do it for the joy of wading through leaked muscle relaxer and years old bin slime. The reason we engage in this sometimes elating sometimes degrading work to is feed those who cannot work to feed themselves.
The Hebrew Bible’s story of Ruth and Naomi provides much inspiration to us. Like Ruth, the seven guests at the farm are foreigners in this country. Boaz allows Ruth to glean from his fields according to the laws established and recorded in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. This tradition demands that when you harvest a field you do not harvest the edges or anything that falls when harvesting from a vineyard for that is to be for the poor and the alien; this is called gleaning. It is Boaz’s kindness and adherence to the law that saves Ruth and her mother in law Naomi from starvation.
Here at the farm we feel that when we go to the bins we participate in this millennia old tradition of gleaning. While we first ask shops to donate their outdated food and help us in our God given responsibility to feed the poor, many choose not to. It is only at this time that we dig through the edges of their fields and under their vineyard branches to sustain those who do not have the ability or opportunity to do so for themselves.
Leviticus 23:22 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”