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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Gleanings III: Dumpster Diving

Chickens at Tam's place eating Linda's unusable tomatoes, fall 2011. Yum yum.
These are the hens that supply eggs to each writer who comes to Windbreak House Writing Retreat.
. . .
Here’s an instance of gleaning from the ranch past.

When I moved back to the ranch with my second husband, I kept hens for meat and eggs, feeding them vegetable peelings and the neighbors’ grain. They roamed a large fenced yard in front of their tiny, insulated house near my garden, and ate trimmings from the vegetables I harvested, and table scraps from my kitchen.

One day, leaving the supermarket parking lot, I realized one dumpster was overflowing: wrapped heads of lettuce had lifted the lid, tumbled across the asphalt. I slammed on the brakes, and filled my pickup bed, then piled the excess outside the chicken yard, and fed the ladies a head of lettuce a day for weeks.

Every time I went to town after that, I passed the trash bins after shopping, and collected discarded lettuce, radishes, turnips, potatoes. My chickens gathered clucking at the gate when they saw my pickup, and their egg yolks turned a rich yellow.

Once, a store clerk dumping bottles of salad dressing questioned me, but when I explained that I feeding my chickens on waste he shrugged and went back inside.

After Mother’s Day, I filled the entire bed of my pickup with carnations, and collected a friend who rode in back of the truck flinging flowers as I drove down the street, tossing them into open car windows at stop lights. We detoured to the poorest part of town and handed a fistful of carnations to every woman we saw.

Then one day I pulled up to my dumpster and saw a clerk standing on a ladder beside it, stabbing the packaged heads of lettuce with a long knife and pouring bleach over them.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked, perhaps a little hysterically.

“Management says people have been taking this stuff out and eating it, and they’re afraid somebody will get sick and sue us,” he said.

I suggested that people hungry enough to eat out of dumpsters probably didn’t have the number of an attorney at their fingertips, but he wasn’t the manager, and he was, as he reminded me, “just doing his job.”

When I got home, I called my extension agent. Bleach wouldn’t hurt the chickens, he said; in fact, it ought to eliminate stomach parasites.

I kept collecting vegetables, but I also wrote letters to the chain store’s management, urging them to donate the food to the shelters and other good causes in town. Eventually, the trash containers were empty of vegetables when I made my rounds, so perhaps my gleaning chickens helped change wasteful policies. I tried to explain to them, but they couldn’t keep their minds on my speech. They kept eying the grass in the pen, snatching grasshoppers. Gleaning.

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