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Volunteers glean fruit that would be wasted

Volunteers for the Backyard Produce Project pick fruit from trees on a local property for distribution to low-income families and seniors. (courtesy of Backyard Produce Project)

Volunteers glean fruit that would be wasted

By John Gregory

Property owners with fruit trees in the northeastern part of the city often find themselves with an abundance of fruit and no place to put it, or no way to harvest all of it. This is when volunteers from the Backyard Produce Project come in handy. 

“We go and pick the trees. We donate it to senior living facilities, low income families and S.T.E.P. (Support the Enlisted Project; based in Scripps Ranch),” said Cindy Haddow, a Scripps Ranch resident and Project volunteer. “Every week we deliver. So, if we pick three days, we try to get the deliveries out within a couple days.”

Once contacted by a homeowner, the Backyard Produce Project sends teams of volunteers to pick fruit from trees on the property so that none of it goes to waste. The fruit is then supplied to organizations that distribute it to those who welcome the additional nutrition.

The busiest time each year is February through April during citrus season, although the work continues into the summer. 

Gleaning takes place mostly in Poway, Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch. Volunteers are placed on a list, and they can view a list of addresses with property owners asking for help. Volunteers may view a spreadsheet of the properties. A map of the locations is provided, and volunteers may sign up for a day they are available. 

“I talk to the owners, and I schedule all the volunteers,” said Haddow, who is going into her fifth year of volunteering with the Backyard Produce Project.  

The organization will send a couple of volunteers to a property if they just have a few trees, and it will send larger teams to properties with more trees. As many as 16 volunteers may attend a large picking session.

“Notices go out the weekend before, saying that we will need so many volunteers … it’s easy to access. If you don’t have that week available, it’s no big deal; you just don’t volunteer. What people like is it’s very flexible,” Haddow said.

A volunteer will normally work on-site for an hour to an hour and a half. Gleaning is always scheduled in the morning to avoid excess heat. The leaders transport all the equipment to each site and set it up for the volunteers. There is always more than one person on-site for gleaning. 

“I started as a picker, a gleaner and moved my way up into leadership,” Haddow said.

The leader on-site does not pick fruit, but rather ensures everything is in order. The leaders greet the pickers and provide instructions. Leaders must also make sure the fruit is being collected correctly because agricultural rules forbid any leaves, stems or rotten fruit be gathered and distributed by the organization. 

Volunteer pickers usually bring their own gloves and clippers, but some of these can be provided. Backyard Produce Project leaders bring ladders and buckets. 

The organization can also use more volunteers to deliver the fruit to distribution sites.

“A lot of people do not have proper food,” Haddow said, adding that food pantries offer bread and groceries, but rarely have fruit available. “We are thanked over and over again for the fresh fruit. With low income housing, there is a set time we drop it off, and they are lined up waiting for it. Everybody is so grateful for it.”

The property owners are also grateful because their fruit trees get picked rather than the fruit dropping to the ground or rotting, Haddow said.

“The people who volunteer and the leaders – everybody is so friendly and welcoming. That’s what makes it so nice,” she added.

The project has been operating for about 15 years and the founder is Jane Radatz.

Visit backyardproduceproject.org.