Free Food....Gleaning

Gleaners are keen for fruit

Derek Spalding, The Daily News
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Terra Bohart drove to Wesley Street in downtown Nanaimo on Tuesday in a small, white GMC pickup. When she arrived, her gleaning team dispersed with ladders, buckets and baskets. Within minutes, they were plucking light green transparent apples from a large, fruitful tree, compliments of a generous chiropractor in the Old City Quarter who does not have time to pick the fruit himself.
The popularity of gleaning has grown as more people realize the abundance of delicious food growing, and often wasted, in their own neighborhoods. Nanaimo Community Gardens has a growing list of ready and available residents waiting for the call to go out and pick unwanted food from people's backyards. With so many gleaners, program organizers are looking for more fruit to pluck.
The process is simple. A resident, who doesn't have time, donates the food in their yards. Gleaners come in, pick the fruit, vegetables, or nuts and then shares the food with the owner. A portion of the picker's pile is often donated to Nanaimo Foodshare and is used to feed hungry families. Gleaning has several benefits: It saves people money on their grocery bill, it decreases the amount of wasted food and it feeds those in need.
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Gleaners from Nanaimo Community Garden Society get started on another season of fruit picking. Jason Kristiansen plucks transparent apples from the backyard of a business on Wesley Street.

Not all emergency food providers can utilize the food because they lack storage facilities for fresh produce, but with the 7-10 Club nearly set to relaunch its full kitchen, some of the gleaned food could once again be used up.
"We try to operate with a one-third sharing (ratio), but often tree owners don't want that much and the pickers could use more," said Lee Sanmiya of Nanaimo Community Garden Society. "Our priority is to make sure the food is not wasted. We encourage participants to take as much as they want and as much as they can share in the community."
Sharing the food is the inspiration for Jason Kristiansen. From the top of a 15-foot ladder, he firmly and consistently pulled apples from the branches and gently placed them into a satchel slung over his shoulder.
He usually takes as much fruit home as he can and shares them with his parents and grandparents. Living in an apartment, growing food at home is not an option, so he regularly shows up for team picks organized by the community garden society. With cherry season behind him, he realizes just how much money the picks can save him.
"At $3 a pound, there is some definite savings there," he said.
Saving money is another incentive. Bohart started gleaning three years ago. For the past two years she's been a pick leader, which means she can be out at least three times a week. The time investment is worth it because she and her family spend less cash at the grocery stores.
"It's an inexpensive way to get unsprayed, fresh fruit," she said.
Depending on the season, however, she can end up with more apples than she can eat. Apples are the most common fruit, starting with transparents in late July and continuing with a variety of strains ripening through until October. Still, nothing goes to waste. With a large juicer, society members can quickly whip up apple juice to share with clients.
Too much food was going to waste before the gleaning program began. In the program's first year, volunteers pulled in 1,156 kilograms of food in just four weeks. As funding increased, so did interest from potential gleaners. The following year, the society hauled away 8,039 kilograms. That successful year has never been matched, but since 2005, when community gardens brought in 5,234 kilograms, the abundance of gleaned food has grown. Even last year, when funding started to disappear, the eager volunteers collected more than they had in most other seasons.
The majority of the food comes from the older neighborhoods, such as the Old City Quarter and Harewood. At least 50% to 75%, according to estimations from Sanmiya. Since that first year, the group has brought in more than 33,000 kilograms of food.
Kristiansen hopes for another abundant season as do most other gleaners, but with the growing popularity of the seasonal program, the society needs more people to donate their food. Apples are the most common food, but the society is more then happy to glean any other food that is not needed and otherwise going to waste.

33 tons
Amount of fruit harvested by gleaning volunteers since 2003.
The Gleaning Season
Cherries mid-July
Transparent apples late July
Plums Aug.- Sept.
Apples (all) Aug. - Oct.
Nuts Sept. -- Nov.
Grapes Sept. - Oct.
Corn Sept.

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