Kentucky by Heart: Glean Kentucky exemplifies giving hearts of the people of the Commonwealth

By Steve Flairty
Kentucky by Heart

Kentucky is a state rich in food production and, as I try to show in my weekly column, also a state full of people who are rich in the goodness of their hearts and willing to help others in need. That’s why it should be no surprise that an organization called Glean Kentucky exists to capitalize on those good things.

Based in Lexington, Glean Kentucky’s mission, according to its web site,, is quite simple. It “gathers and redistributes excess fresh fruits and vegetables to nourish Kentucky’s hungry.”

(Photo from Glean Kentucky)

I became aware of the outreach when a couple of individuals wearing t-shirts with the words “Glean Kentucky” on front began showing up near the end of the Saturday morning sessions of the Woodford County Farmer’s Market, where my wife, Suzanne, and I sell garden mini-flower arrangements. Each of the two Gleaners carry boxes and stop at vegetable vendors’ booths, gathering unsold vegetables such as corn and tomatoes and generally filling the boxes. Typically, I see them make a quick trip to their car to load and trips back to the booths with more boxes, with it becoming a weekly, bountiful ritual.

I wanted to find out more about what they were doing, so last week, I caught up with the two, asking them plenty of questions.

Larry Leach, of Lexington, said he was thinking about volunteer work “to fill the extra hours” even before he retired in 2016. It was Barb Fischer, with whom he now gleans at the Woodford Market, who suggested Glean. Working with non-profits at the Bluegrass Community Foundation, Barb is in a position to know about such outreaches. “I started grocery gleaning in 2017,” explained Larry, “Barb and I started gleaning the Woodford County Farmers Market in 2021.”

Gleaning work coincides with Larry and Barb’s values. “I love Glean’s mission—reducing hunger and wasted food,” offered Barb.

“I am grateful to have always had ‘a roof over my head and food in my belly’,” said Larry. “Not everyone is so fortunate. After retirement, it only makes sense to give back, to make it a little easier for others.”

Larry Leach and Barb Fischer gleaning in Versailles (Photo by Steve Flairty)

Larry also mentioned that for him, his service gleaning doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time, and the Glean coordinator is flexible about the pickup/delivery schedules. His gleaning at the Woodford Market on Saturday, including a trip to deliver at the Woodford Food Pantry across town in Versailles, takes about an hour. But over the years, he’s found time to deliver grocery store donations to many places, including Lexington elementary schools, the YMCA, Family Care Center, Lexington Rescue Mission, churches, and the Catholic Action Center.

Barb called it “fun to hang out at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday. Woodford County farmers are the best!” She also praised the Woodford Food Pantry for making it a pleasurable collaboration. “Sharon Hardin, the food pantry’s director, always meets us and helps unload, and she often tells us how much clients appreciate the fresh fruits and veggies that the Farmer’s Market provides. The Food Pantry serves hundreds of families in the community, and the need is growing,” Barb said.

And how long with the two continue their volunteers as gleaners?

“As long as we’re healthy enough to drive and carry the boxes of fruits and vegetables,” said Larry.

“A long time, I hope,” responded Barb. “After I retire someday, I’d like to get more involved with both Glean and Woodford County’s Food Pantry.”

I also checked in with Glean Kentucky Executive Director, Ben Southworth, and he generously shared many details about the outreach. First, it is unique. “Glean Kentucky is the only group in the state whose sole mission is the gathering and redistribution of excess produce from source to recipient agency,” Ben explained. “While there are several groups that will pick up from a grocery store here and there, our model allows us to specialize in this particular thing, so we can supplement the existing work of feeding programs throughout the state.”

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)

Glean covers three regions in the state: Central (Fayette and surrounding counties), South Central (Warren and the surrounding counties), and North Central (Oldham and surrounding). In 2022, the program picked up from 32 sources, including farms, groceries, farmers, markets, orchards, and gardens. They deliver to 45 food agencies. In the thirteen years it’s been in existence, over 2.5 million pounds of produce has been rescued and redistributed.

Those are pretty impressive numbers. To keep it going, what are the greatest needs for Glean Kentucky?

“Gleaning is really labor and logistics—heavy work and takes a ton of generosity from the whole community, whether on the gleaning or fundraising side, all of our work is supported by volunteer gleaners, produce donors, and those who support this work financially,” said Ben. He noted that “we can always use the help of more volunteers in all the regions we work, particularly in Warren Counties, where our work is newer.”

Ben talked about Kentuckians’ willingness to help. “I have always been blown away by the generosity of everyone with whom we work, but especially our volunteer gleaners. So many of them will show up to a farm an hour away from home, with just a day’s notice, and most are wanting to work longer than our time can allow. Farmers are constantly checking their walk-in coolers while we’re out harvesting in their fields to see if there’s anything they can send us, and it’s been that way since we were founded back in 2010.”

Glean Kentucky, like most of us, had to do a lot of improvising when Covid came. That meant, said Ben, putting “safety measures in place” and to “respond to our partners whose needs were constantly changing.” Some agencies who normally received food were forced to stop accepting donations to keep at-risk clients safe, while others saw increased needs go up 100%. Ironically, Glean Kentucky received calls during the early part of Covid to “come and clean out walk-in coolers at restaurants and hotels and farmers who had planned their planting to supply restaurants ended up having tons of produce to donate to us because their buyers could no longer use it.”

Though many volunteer gleaners are retired and have flexibility for pickup times, Ben noted that Glean Kentucky is “(also) able to engage with more diverse groups (groups of employees, church groups, etc.) through group gleaning we do at orchards in the fall.”

If you have some extra time and passion to help out as a volunteer gleaner or in some other way, email

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