The warm spring sunshine means ripe citrus trees in Davis and a chance for the UC Davis Students for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) to continue the fruit harvesting effort they began last year.
The project was informally started when Christie McCullen, a community and regional development graduate student, organized a bike trip around Davis to ask different residents for permission to pick ripe fruit from their citrus trees.
“Three of us in two and a half hours were able to pick three hundred pounds of fruit,” McCullen said of the group’s first trip.
The act of gathering produce left over by farmers or reapers is described as gleaning, which is how the pickers came to dub themselves the “gleaning arm” of the SSA.
The fruit gleaned is split several ways, McCullen said. A bag is usually left for the tree owner; the pickers take some fruit for themselves and a large amount of the produce goes to the Yolo County Food Bank and Davis Community Meals.
“The Yolo County Food Bank serves between 18,000 to 20,000 people a month,” McCullen said. “Most of their food is processed or new products that didn’t do too well.“
The gleaners hope to alleviate some of the local food shelter’s food shortage by donating some of the fresh fruit they pick to the organization.
“It’s kind of a contradiction of the environment we live in,” McCullen said in reference to the food bank’s produce shortage. “We are in one of the largest food producing regions in the state, country and world and there is still this food insecurity.”
McCullen recently organized a second annual bike tour that harvested the fruit of about fifteen different residencies.
The fruit gleaned for the winter and spring seasons were primarily citrus such as naval oranges, some Valencia and grapefruits. Later this year the Davis gleaners are looking to pick peaches, persimmons and then apples in the fall.
Junior American studies major Liz Fitzgerald and sustainable agriculture and food science major Maggie Lickter are two group members seeking to formalize the gleaning project.
“This project has been informally around for awhile,“ Fitzgerald said. “The three of us are working to establish relationships between people with [fruit] trees and the Yolo County Food Bank.“
Fitzgerald plans on expanding the project.
“We are in a visioning state right now but would like to design a survey and outreach material to get more people involved,” she said.
Lickter and Fitzgerald also described the desire to outreach to campus groups, like the multi-faith community center, who might allow the gleaners to use their kitchen to create value-added products. These are foods that can be made from the harvested fruit such as jams and preserves.
The sale of value-added products could create revenue to build food generating sites in other communities, Lickter said.
“We can do more than donations,” she said. “We can create other sources of food in food deserts – places where people do not have proper access to food.“
As for the ultimate goal of a formalized program, the gleaners would simply like to see a wider distribution of the produce.
“We want to get food from here and see it going a couple different directions – the food bank foremost,” Lickter said.
“One of the greatest things about gleaning together is the community that develops around it,” Lickter said. “It’s just an awesome way to come together, do good work, and eat good food.“
The Davis gleaners also encourage more community participation in the program. The group is presently comprised of both members of the SSA and people that simply want to join together and learn more about the gleaning project.
Those interested in joining the effort, or who own a fruit tree they want harvested can contact the group by sending an e-mail email@example.com.
AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.