When summer bounty overflows, farmers ask gleaners to harvest ripe fruit to fend off birds and pests.

Gleaning is an ancient tradition that typically gathers food left behind after a harvest, but on a summer evening at 3 Birds Berry Farm among hayfields west of Blacksburg, about twenty volunteers with the NRV Glean Team were buried in blueberry bushes, elbow-deep, talking and laughing, gathering rapidly ripening berries with both hands.

“We glean all year,” Mary Walters-Eyestone, long-time orchestrator of the NRV Glean Team said.

She’s standing in the grassy aisle between head-high blueberry bushes, Duke cultivar, making sure everyone has a bucket.

“We start gleaning in the spring with early salad and greens. That continues through strawberries, peppers, kale, tomatoes…,” Walters-Eyestone.

“Squash!” yells a voice from a bush.

“Yes. Squash! and zucchini. We’ll continue all the way to turnips. We harvest ‘til the ground freezes,” Eyestone said. “We were at Windy Hills Farm in Riner for turnips ‘til after Thanksgiving last fall.”

In straw hats and baskets expertly lashed to their belts, the team is both carefree and no-nonsense.

The NRV Glean Team is part of the Society of St. Andrew, a forty-year old ecumenical organization that coordinates gleaning in eight eastern states as it works to reduce the country’s abysmal 30 percent food waste loss.

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