Gleaning Gourds

By Jim Callier

Last month I shared with you about noteworthy efforts to feed the poor here in Kansas City by “gleaning.”  I wanted to follow up by sharing the conclusion to this story and the positive impact this experience had on me, the community, and the environment.

Food is Too Good To Waste!

One of the reasons for my enthusiasm about the gleaning effort is that EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, places feeding hungry people near the top in terms of preferred alternatives to wasting.  Considering higher uses of food is important because in addition to the social and economic benefits of not wasting food, alternatives to landfilling are important for the planet.

Food waste, especially when disposed of in a landfill, is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases through the production and release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.  In the US, a significant amount of food waste is disposed of in landfills every day – more than 34.5 million tons in 2011.  This is enough food waste to fill the Rose Bowl each day!  What’s more, many in the US do not have enough to eat.  Hunger is a serious problem in the US – with 1 in 5 children going to bed hungry.

The gleaning effort organized by SoSA West that took place in Kansas City this past November was one of many notable efforts to take food that otherwise would be wasted and get it to those in need. I was honored to be a part of this effort and am glad to be able to share my account.

Getting Squash to Those in Need

A couple of days following the gleaning event, squash1I met up with volunteers to make deliveries of gleaned squash to pantries and shelters.  I met Scott, a volunteer for Operation Breakthrough who would drive the truck and Jesse, another volunteer who would sack and deliver the squash.  Scott and Jesse were interested in my involvement in the project so I explained EPA’s food recovery program and the importance of food recovery to the economy and environment.  When I mentioned feeding people as a beneficial alternative to wasting and our partnership with USDA, they were enthusiastic and better understood the bigger picture of food waste in the US.

We began our journey for the day with an initial list of 6-7 stops and loaded with 4 full skid boxes — over 4000 pounds of squash, and numerous bushel-sized sacks to fill.   At every stop, we met incredible people.  Some were chefs that would prepare the squash and some were people in need.  Everyone we met was incredibly appreciative, but I felt the most privileged, having the opportunity to be part of the effort.

squash22One of the stops that had a particular impact on me was a men’s shelter.  While we were there a number of men came over to our truck to help unload a couple hundred pounds of squash.  Although the honor was ours, they were truly grateful.  As we prepared to leave the shelter, a couple of men who were in a van leaving for an errand backed up, stopped, rolled the window down, and called us over to once again express appreciation.  This totally unexpected, additional act of gratitude really hit home for me on the value of the effort made by all of the organizations and volunteers.

As I walked back to the delivery truck, I noticed a black POW MIA flag.   Subsequently, I did a little research and learned that this organization’s mission includes helping veterans and houses close to 200 veterans.  This really made a mark on me because Veterans and active duty service personnel have a special meaning for me.  One reason is that my father and eldest brother were veterans; my father served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II and my brother served in the Army during the Vietnam era.  Also, I have met numerous veterans and service members throughout my work at EPA.  While working in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands assessing and cleaning up WWII sites, I met current and former Navy Explosive Ordnance Detachment Officers, also known as “bomb techs.”  squash3

Meeting these appreciative vets and others on our journey that day was a fantastic experience.  In all, we made about 13 stops and delivered most of the squash that day.   I felt uplifted to meet the generous volunteers and grateful recipients.  It is encouraging to know that efforts like this are going on and that what we do at EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge is necessary and important.  As I witnessed by participating in this gleaning effort, the work of many at food waste reduction is turning what would have been left behind as waste into an opportunity to make lives a little better.





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Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

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