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Pecans, Profits, Poverty: reason to remember the gleaners

From the New York Times today:
In Georgia, Pecan Thieves Find Windfall, at $1.50 a Pound

Now I know stealing is stealing, and scrumping is scrumping, but there’s a decent argument in here somewhere for leaving some of the fallen nuts for the poor to gather–even if it’s to sell to local nut brokers at a dollar-fifty a pound. The farmers claim their losses are growing this year–small wonder!–but one of the biggest growers estimates he’s selling 7 million pounds and the thefts total to about 10,000 pounds. Less than one percent. The article quotes $3 per pound as standard wholesale–all I can say is, out here in California our best local price is $9 per pound for shelled pecans (I don’t bother with the ones still in the shells; I’m not that good).

Some of the thieves are stealing amounts large enough to be serious theft–1400 pounds in one case–and cutting fences to break in. You get no argument from me for calling the sheriff on them. But most are genuinely poor–laid off and out of work, trying to make 15 or 20 bucks with the bit they can gather in a bucket or sack from the edges of the local pecan groves. Yes, that starts to add up if you have 50 people doing it, and yes, it’s more than one person would expect to be able to eat because they were hungry, but perhaps the talk of theft should be reconsidered and turned around to a discussion on gleaning, and not trimming the corners of your fields but rather leaving the last bits of the harvest for the poor to gather. The amount of money these small-scale gatherers can expect to make by selling to the local nut brokers is paltry and nowhere near in competition with the price the growers can get per pound.

Ironically, if the growers let locals pay a significant discount price per pound–50 cents a pound? 75 cents? to gather fallen nuts themselves after the main harvest, as many apple orchards do, they might reduce the incentive for break-ins, reduce their financial losses from theft and security costs, and save themselves some labor and wear-and-tear on their expensive ground harvesters. And they might still be seen as generous.

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