Gleaning, Food Banks, and a Farmer’s Liability
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
This post should not be construed as legal advice.
It has been bitterly cold here lately, but soon (hopefully) the weather will turn warm and farmers will be back in the field planting vegetables for the upcoming season. As these vegetables and fruits are harvested, farmers may produce excess amounts to meet current contracts, CSA shares, farmers’ market needs, etc., and look at supplying excess crops to area food banks. Allowing the collection of leftover crops is known as gleaning. Food banks will potentially have volunteers who come to harvest these leftover crops for use by the needy. But many farmers worry that they potentially face liability if a volunteer is hurt on their farm while gleaning crops for the food bank. Maryland law does offer protections to farmers allowing gleaning on their property.
A farmer allowing charitable organizations such as food banks, churches, etc., to glean on the farmer’s property will not be personally liable for injuries that happen to an agent of the charity; see Md. Code Ann., Cts & Jud. Proc. § 5-404(b) (West 2015). The language of the statute treats charities, their employees, and volunteers as trespassers.
Maryland law only requires a farmer allowing a charity to glean farm products to refrain from willful or malicious injury of the charity’s employees or volunteers, similar to the same duty of care owed to a trespasser. This means the farmer needs to warn the charity of known dangerous conditions on the farm. For example, say volunteers will be using a shed on the farm while gleaning. Unknown to the volunteers, a recent storm has made the shed unsafe and the farmer has been told not to use the shed till it is repaired. The farmer would need to warn the charity and the volunteers not to use the shed.
As you can see, Maryland law provides liability protection for those farmers who want to donate produce and other farm products to charities. This liability protection is there to encourage farmers to donate unharvested farm products which might normally rot in the field. One quick note: if you are in Virginia or Delaware, a search of your state’s laws did not turn up a similar statute. Producers in these states would potentially need to talk to a lawyer about strategies to limit liability if this is a concern.