Free falling

Reno Gleaning Project

Pamela Mayne, founder of the Reno Gleaning Project, inspects a pear during a pick.

Pamela Mayne, founder of the Reno Gleaning Project, inspects a pear during a pick.


“It fell on the ground” is not a good reason to throw away perfectly edible food, according to Pamela Mayne, the founder, financier and spot picker of the Reno Gleaning Project. In an effort to reduce food waste, Mayne has organized community gleaning since 2009.

Gleaning is the clean-up process of excess produce that has fallen from trees. Generally deemed unusable, the produce is often left to rot. The Reno Gleaning Project seeks to use this surplus to provide organic, homegrown fruit to a financially struggling population. The core value of the organization is respect—“respect the grower, the tree and the fruit.” The pickers do not shake the trees to gather the fruit, but use a catcher to gently comb and collect it. “The process is very zen,” Mayne said.

RGP picks, sorts and weighs the fruit before donating it to Hands of Hope, a Reno food bank that provides inexpensive, healthy options to struggling families. Only whole, newly picked fruit is given to Hands of Hope; already fallen food that can’t be eaten is referred to an independent, licensed distiller who turns it into ethanol. The more perfect the fruit, the longer its shelf life. “We want to take all of the unused food and give it to the people,” Mayne said.

Master and amateur food preservers turn the imperfect pieces into preserves, using as much as possible. “We only donate the perfect pieces to be eaten raw. If there’s a hole, we cut it off and use what’s good,” Mayne said. “Some people get freaked out about a little worm hole but don’t even think about the pesticides and chemicals in the fruit from the grocery store.”

Fruit falls most frequently during the onset of autumn and the gleaning is done from August to November. While vegetables are welcome, most of the gleaning happens with fruit trees. Apples are most commonly collected as their resiliency works well with the Northern Nevada climate. Peaches are in high demand.

Gleaning is not just nutritious for humans, but also keeps gardens thriving. When fruit falls and rots, it attracts a number of pests that can be harmful to yards and people. Unpicked fruit allows for burrowing insects, and critters like squirrels and raccoons can wreak havoc on sweet-smelling yards.

Land and homeowners can request a picking and volunteers will visit the site, spending around 45 minutes collecting the fruit. The volunteers are active members of the community who often pick during their lunch breaks or in the evenings after work. “We are just a small cadre of professionals who believe in local food,” Mayne said.

While the main focus of the group is salvaging food, Mayne also cares about ensuring that children have access to healthy produce. She hopes that gleaning and collaborating with Hands of Hope will result in “palate training”—appreciation for fruit in its most natural form. “I want fruit to be an exciting food experience for kids,” she said.

The organization is a grassroots project and Mayne intends to keep it that way. “Fruit is our currency,” said Mayne. “We want the community to value it.”