The Gleaners

Gleaning: 1. to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit. 2. to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers.

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet

A pretty old term but it is the best description for what we have witnessed for the last two weeks. But first some background.

We are surrounded by cornfields, front and back, and early this month the farmers started cutting the corn. Sometimes they would be out all day and then continue into the night. It’s very eerie to see the headlights flashing through the stalks and the growling noise of the tractor as it got closer and closer to the edge of the field. Even after all that time in the field there are still many rows waiting to be cut.

The gleaning field

But what is left in the cut areas is the important part of this story. Inevitably some ears remain..

Usually we see the fields filled with geese after the farmers are done. The deer also enjoy the extra bits that are left behind. But in the days after the cutting we haven’t been seeing geese or deer, we’ve been seeing the following:

The gleaner

Pouring the corn into the jitney

It’s a small vehicle, Curt refers to as jitney, with two occupants. After much observation we can see it is an elderly man and an elderly woman. We don’t recognize them – they don’t live on our road.  He drives and when they stop she gets out and fills a bucket with cobs of corn left on the field. She dumps them in the back of the jitney and then they move to another spot and repeat the actions. It can’t be easy, she appears to be quite stooped and we think he drives because walking or bending over is probably not possible for him. They come out every morning, work till noon, probably stop for lunch and then sometimes return in the afternoon.

Now I have been doing research to try to determine what they are going to do with all of the corn they have gleaned. This is field corn so they aren’t taking it home for human consumption unless they are drying it and making cornmeal. But how much cornmeal can two people eat? Field corn is also used as fodder for livestock but you would think if this couple had cows and sheep, they would have been feeding them throughout the year. Unless they are fattening up the Thanksgiving turkey? Well, how about corn liquor? Do you think these two have a still set up somewhere? I guess that’s one way to get through the winter.

My husband probably has the best guess. He thinks they have a corn stove and they are getting the fuel stocked up before winter arrives. Once it snows or if we have some heavy rains, gleaning in the field will be impossible. We have been fortunate to have some really wonderful weather the last couple of weeks so the gleaners have been able to get out everyday. But when I think  about this too long, I am concerned that this elderly couple may be having money problems and that gleaning corn may be one way they make ends meet. On the other hand, maybe they’re just frugal – waste not, want not. I hope the worst is not true but if it is I think that farmer should get out there and cut the remaining corn so the gleaners can benefit from the next few days of nice weather that is predicted.

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3 thoughts on “The Gleaners

  1. Pingback: Mysteries of the blogosphere « Another Stir of the Spoon

  2. I think this is the same stuff C and G buy in Staples. They have a corn stove, but gosh, that is very hard work. I wonder where they live, must be somewhere close. I think Chick buys it by the ton! Check with her. Ma

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