My Volunteer Journal: Episode 26 – Gleaning Fruit for the Hungry aka War with an Orange Tree

me-picking-fruitWhen I first moved to Los Angeles I was amazed by the oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and other citrus trees that grew like weeds in the hot dry climate. How lucky the owners of these trees were! They could make fresh squeezed juice, salad dressings, desserts, and marinades with the tastiest freshest produce around. Over time though I noticed that many of these trees remained unpicked or only the very lowest branches were harvested. The fruit eventually blackened, hung lifeless on the trees, and then fell to the ground.

What a waste.

You can imagine then that it was a very exciting day for me when I found out about fruit gleaning on an episode of the Keep It Green Girls. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover or unwanted crops. It was practiced by ancient cultures as a kind of welfare and many humanitarian groups practice it today to bring fresh produce to the needy.

Problem was I couldn’t find a gleaning group to volunteer with, until, a wonderful person called fruitloopia started following me on Twitter. Ironic since I had been cursing Twitter the week before for being a slightly narcissistic waste of time. Open mouth. Insert foot. Anyway, turns out fruitloopia is a member of this wonderful gleaning group called Food Forward, and “Yes” they would love to have me join them for a day of volunteering.


fruit-in-boxesFood Forward locates trees throughout LA that residents cannot or do not want to pick. They harvest with 6 to 12 volunteers on the weekend and Wednesday nights (after the night picks they make fruit cocktails). Food Forward also has Big Picks where they organize several dozen volunteers to clear an orchard quarterly.

I joined Food Forward on a beautiful and hot Sunday morning in the West Hills of LA County to pick oranges and grapefruits from 4 large citrus trees. I brought along handy sidekick Matt who at 6’8”, I figured, did not need a ladder. After signing releases we were handed long poles with a small basket on the end. The idea is to push the basket up around the orange, twist, and it gentle falls into the container. You collect three oranges and then unload the basket and start again. Sounds simple, but in practice it’s more like strategic warfare.

The battle raged as I attempted to negotiate with the tree, “If you just let me have these two oranges then I will leave you the one you have coiled in your branches.” Many times it wouldn’t give up the goods. Sometimes the tree would wait until you had pulled the basket away and then it would hurl an orange at your head. I tried to climb the tree, as I am a big fan of tree climbing, but it stuck me with its thorns. I managed to pick three perfect oranges at one point and in return the tree smacked me on top of the head with its branch.

In only one hour and thirty minutes our small group of volunteers cleared four trees so our job was done. We had won the battle. 450 lbs of fresh oranges and grapefruits were going to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. Even the oranges that weren’t perfect were going to be juiced. Nothing went to waste.

Picking with Food Forward was really rewarding, not only because we kept good-for-the-body fruit from going to waste, but we also encouraged the cultivation and consumption of local food – which is very green darling! FYI - 1.5 hours of picking fruit = awesome arm/back/shoulder workout.