Guest post by Nina Osswald, Food Futures

Gleaning Cauliflowers

At this time of the year, the harvest season is in full swing. For one farmer in the south of Lancashire this meant that a field full of cauliflowers were ready to be harvested, cooked and enjoyed. Except, nobody seemed to want to buy them.

It turns out that bulk buyers like supermarkets have very specific specifications, and only a small proportion of the cauliflowers that are grown can actually be sold. Many of them are either too large, too small or too wonky.

These are the cauliflowers that a group of FoodFutures and Eggcup gleaning volunteers went to harvest earlier this month as part of the Closing Loops project. And did they work hard: In just one day, they harvested a whopping 800+ kg of cauliflower, or roughly 8,000 portions. And that was only a tiny fraction of one field of surplus.

The gleaning event was organised by the Closing Loops Gleaning Coordinator Jay, who says: “We often hear about how supermarkets have very limiting demands on their fruit and veg, with wonky vegetables that are perfectly good for eating having to be left to rot. Seeing this in practice and just how much of the cauliflower wasn’t up to their standards was really shocking. I think I had imagined before that most of the crops were suitable, with just a few that are wonky, too big or small, discoloured etc having to be left. But in fact it seems, at least with these cauliflowers, to be the opposite! Only those of a perfect size were of interest to the supermarkets, with most of the fields not being up to scratch.”

The group of volunteers thought there wasn’t anything wrong with the cauliflowers at all, and nor did the Eggcup members who came and collected the “wonky” vegetables from the Eggcup distribution hubs in central Lancaster and the West End of Morecambe throughout the following week.

In addition to the satisfaction of rescuing such an incredible mountain of perfectly delicious and nutritious cauliflowers, the group had a great day out in lovely weather, with lots of sun and enjoyment. Not to mention free cauliflowers galore to take home and turn into curries, roasted veg, raw cauliflower rice or even using the greens as a nutritious and tasty leafy vegetable. Huge thanks to the lovely farmer who grew these beautiful vegetables, welcomed the volunteer group on their land and allowed them to take some of their surplus.

What can you do?

Would you buy a cauliflower that is smaller than 5 inches? Or larger than that? Next time you are at the shop, why not pick a smaller, larger or perfectly shaped vegetable on purpose? Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where all veggies are equal and judged only on tastiness, not shape… Buying all veg that is good for eating doesn’t just avoid waste, it also supports the farmers who spent a lot of time, effort and money cultivating those crops. And did you know that if you use the stems and leaves of cauliflowers as well you can double how much food you get out of one cauliflower? See the photos at top.

If you don’t see any imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables in your supermarket, you could try shopping from a local greengrocer, farmers’ market (for instance, the upcoming Lancaster Harvest Market in September) or farm shop. Or you could get a veg box of seasonal, locally grown veg delivered home every week, for instance from The Plot.

Gleaning is just one aspect of the Closing Loops project; more here.

Sign up as a gleaning volunteer

If you would like to do more, you could sign up as a gleaning volunteer. Just email Jay (address below) and ask to get on the mailing list so you get invited to future gleaning events and can come along on one of the next harvest missions. The team of food rescue superheroes is hoping to head back down to this farm again, to see if they can save even more surplus from going to waste, and there will be other farms and crops coming up soon.

If you are a farmer or grower with surplus crops that need rescuing, or if you are a local food business, whether retailer, producer, wholesaler or anything else, and would like to have a chat about how you could help reduce food waste and support our community, send Jay an email at