It is estimated that up to half of all food waste occurs between the farmer and the retailer.
Much of that waste consists of perfectly edible food which has been rejected by supermarkets for cosmetic reasons – because it is too small, too big, or does not have the ideal shape or desired coloration.
But some waste occurs even before that stage.
On modern, large-scale farms with mechanised harvesting techniques, it is inevitable that a small proportion of crops are not harvested because the machines fail to reach them. That small proportion can still add up to a sizeable amount of produce on a large farm. The cost of labour often makes it uneconomical for the farmer to arrange to have such a relatively small amount gathered up by hand.
Similarly, sometimes farms may have a glut of fruit, particularly in seasons where there has been a good crop everywhere and market prices have fallen, again making it uneconomical for the farmer to pay for the fruit to be picked.
It was this aspect of food waste that led to the formation of the Gleaning Network UK in 2012.
Gleaners are volunteers who visit local farms (having first obtained an invitation from the farmer) to gather unharvested fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. The produce collected by the gleaners is then distributed to those in need.
As austerity continues to disproportionately affect the poor, more and more UK citizens have come to rely on food banks. Like many, I always donate food whenever I see a collecting point, but it is an unfortunate aspect of the logistical processes involved that food banks will generally not accept fresh fruit or vegetables as these would perish before reaching their intended destination. Gleaning has the potential to help fill that particular gap.
Gleaning is not a new concept, but a modern revival of a tradition that dates back at least to the middle ages, where land owners would invite the poor onto their land to gather up any unharvested crops. In the modern world it offers all parties concerned an opportunity to respond positively to this largely hidden aspect of a system that scandalously encourages unnecessary food waste.
If you are interested in learning more about gleaning, or would like to become a volunteer with a group near you, click on this link.
I’ve never been a big sweetcorn fan and so for many years chose not to grow it on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. Last year, however, I grew a few sweet corn plants simply to fill a bit of space on one of my beds. I’ve done the same again this year and decided to give some of them a try in this dish, alongside yellow peppers and fresh oregano.
Vibrant, tasty, creamy and satisfying, this lovely soup vastly surpassed my expectations. I shall definitely be growing sweet corn again next year!
sweetcorn and roasted yellow pepper soup
2 sweetcorn cobs
4 yellow peppers, halved and deseeded
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 litre vegetable stock
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F, gas mark 5). Put the sweetcorn cobs and pepper halves into a baking tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the tray in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until the pepper flesh is soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and set to one side to cool.
2. When the sweetcorn is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the kernels.
3. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan with a lid. Keeping the lid off for now, place the pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot add the chopped onions and cook, stirring every so often, until the onions become soft and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and continue cooking for a further two minutes.
3. Now add the sweetcorn kernels, the roasted peppers and salt. Add most of the chopped oregano, leaving a little in reserve for garnish. Stir to combine and cook for a further minute before adding the vegetable stock.
4. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and place the lid on the pan. Cook at this lower heat for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for at least 15 minutes.
5. Process the soup in a blender until smooth. You will need to do this in batches. When you are ready to serve, reheat the soup gently. Pour into bowls and garnish with the reserved oregano leaves.