Have you ever considered gleaning potatoes? Find out how to glean potatoes the right way!
When I was a small child, I remember helping my mom glean potatoes. It seems like a true Idaho activity to do, so I decided to introduce my kids to the activity a couple of years ago. However, I’ve been surprised by how many people I’ve met locally that have never heard of gleaning, or aren’t sure how to do it, so I wanted to share how easy it is to glean potatoes!
Gleaning potatoes will save you a bit of money, but to be honest, potatoes are one of the cheapest foods for how filling they are, so we aren’t really doing it to save our budget.
Rather, I love having my kids see where their food comes from, and taking part in the work. I also like “saving” some of the perfectly good potatoes that would otherwise simply be turned back into the ground.
Is it stealing to glean potatoes?
The short answer: no.
The long answer: If you go into a field that hasn’t yet been harvested, then you are definitely stealing. However, after harvest, there are thousands of potatoes left in the field.
As the potato harvester goes through the field, it has spaces in it that allow potatoes that are too small to be sold to fall through the spaces, back into the dirt. These potatoes are perfectly good to consume, just too small for the farmers to keep.
There are also lots of potatoes that are missed as the harvester turns to harvest another row.
These potatoes are all great for you to glean and keep for your personal use.
If you’d like to glean potatoes, most farmers are perfectly happy to have you do so. Just check with the farmer ahead of time to make sure they are fine with it, on the off chance that it is a problem.
More than likely, they’ll let you know when they’re going to harvest, and you can go and glean right behind the combines. This is especially important, because if you go to glean a field that was harvested a week ago, the potatoes will have gotten too much sun already. Even one day can be too much sunlight.
When potatoes are exposed to sunlight, the skin begins to turn green due to chlorophyll. The green skin is high in a toxin called solanine, which can actually make you sick if you were to ingest high levels of it. It also causes the potatoes to taste very bitter (which is actually a good thing, since the terrible bitterness makes you not want to eat many, helping you to not get sick!).
So if you’re gleaning a potato field, you’ll want to make sure to get in soon after the trucks have gone through. As always, store the potatoes away from sunlight. If by some chance the potatoes do still get some small amounts of green in the skin, make sure to peel or cut off that part of the potato.
The second reason that you will want to have this worked out with the farmer ahead of time is that most farmers turn their fields over quite quickly these days. When I was little, fields seemed to be harvested and then turned over a week or more later. Now, there is often a crew coming in to turn the field the day of harvesting, so you need to be ready to get in there beforehand.
What supplies do you need to glean potatoes?
When you glean potatoes, you’ll want to make sure that you wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. If you have muck boots they work great, but if not, just make sure you wear some sturdy tennis shoes.
You’ll want some buckets or boxes to fill with the potatoes. I recommend smaller boxes or buckets to fill up in the fields, and then a larger bucket or boxes in your vehicle to dump them into. Potatoes get pretty heavy quickly!
You’ll also want a wide brimmed hat to keep you cool in the field, sunscreen, and lots of water to drink.
Use your freshly gleaned potatoes to make my favorite Potato Soup!
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