Most With The Least: Urban Gleaners

Tackling food waste by redistributing excess to those who need it most

By Marty Patail October 23, 2014

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Food waste is a national epidemic: the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that up to 40 percent of the food sold in the United States—133 billion pounds—goes directly into the trash. Tracy Oseran of Urban Gleaners knows this all too well. Since 2006, she has steered her van all over Portland, collecting excess produce, dairy, and whole-grain breads from grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, and farmers markets to make weekly deliveries to homeless shelters and schools in high-poverty areas like Mill Park—all with just three full-time employees and a team of volunteers. Oseran started Urban Gleaners after hearing an NPR story about food waste. She drove straight to Bluehour and asked the cooks for the day’s leftovers. “You have to be really pushy, which initially was hard,” she says. “But I learned how to do it.” Her persistence has paid off. Last summer, Urban Gleaners expanded into a 3,300-square-foot space in Southeast Portland. Here’s a snapshot of how Oseran leverages minimal resources for maximal impact. 

  • 50: Percent increase in the amount of food the average American wastes since the 1970s
  • 25 M: Americans we could feed by reducing food waste just 15%
  • 1 in 6: Americans who lack a secure supply of food
  • 3: Full-time employees at Urban Gleaners
  • $132,000: Urban Gleaners’ 2013 annual budget
  • 44: Participating grocery store chains, farmers markets, and other institutions that donate food to Urban Gleaners
  • 45,000: Pounds of food Urban Gleaners picks up and delivers every month
  • 17: Portland schools participating in Urban Gleaners’ Food to Schools program, launched in 2009
  • 3,200: Students and family members receiving food from Urban Gleaners
  • 75-95: Percentage of students at served schools who come from low-income homes
  • $0: Cost of excess food to Urban Gleaners
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