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Fruit glean at historic orchard feeds food insecure

Fruit glean at historic orchard feeds food insecure

Rogue reapers on notice

By Paul Goguen

About a year ago at this time I found myself munching on some sort of plum-like fruit in the old orchard next to what was once Camp Via on the Sonoma Developmental Center campus after having ridden my mountain bike up the hill from Glen Ellen. This is not an unusual thing for a local to do, many people know about the orchard and when to head up there for some free produce to munch on while wending through the trails.

As it turns out there are some folks around here who take fruit picking to the next level when they sneak up there with a vehicle, or by some other means, and harvest shockingly large hauls of fruit. Most years since the orchard was abandoned by the state in the 1980s, few cared about what went on up there as far as picking fruit that was likely going to rot on the vine anyway. Now Jack London Park Partners and the people at Farm to Pantry have come up with a novel use for all this fruit: feed it to people who are food challenged.

Many name iterations ago, the intent of the SDC was such that the operation of the facility would be as self-sustainable as possible and most of the food would be grown on the many acres of land that was available. Farm animals, produce, and 110 acres of fruit trees (apples, pears, apricots, peaches, cherries, and plums) were maintained by “clients” at the home, then by commercial keepers in the 1960s and '70s. By the 1980s, the orchard was abandoned by the state. In 2002, a 600-acre area, including the remaining 40 acres of orchards ,was given to Jack London State Historic Park.

Park staff began studying and restoring the historic plot.

During the last couple of weeks volunteers and staff from Jack London State Historic Park and Farm to Pantry have assembled in the park’s historic orchard to glean – or gather – thousands of ripe plums that will be given to people in Sonoma County who are struggling with food insecurity. About the word “glean,” from Merriam-Webster: to collect the remaining grain, etc. from (a reaped field). In our case the “grain” is replaced by fruit and our “field” has been overenthusiastically reaped by reapers who really shouldn’t be reaping so much.

Farm to Pantry is a nonprofit gleaning organization. Launched in 2008, its mission is to cultivate good health and community and to support environmental sustainability by rescuing locally grown food and sharing it with those in need.

So, while the best part of this story is about how food

-insecure people are getting fresh produce, the secondary part is educating some folks out there (you know who you are) that massive unauthorized harvesting activities now have a negative impact on other people. You aren’t just taking fruit that would otherwise rot any more.

You are taking it from people who need, let’s say one pound of it more than you need 300. Jack London Park Partners director of operations Eric Metz describes the situation. “We appreciate that there is a long history of locals coming up to harvest the fruit in the orchard, which would have fallen and gone to waste. Now that we have this great partnership and a way to get this fruit out to those that are facing a food shortage, we hope visitors enjoy a few pieces of fruit during their visit, but leave most for our non-profit partners.” Last Friday there was another glean of bartlett pears with volunteers from Benziger winery with an estimate of over 1,000 pounds of fruit harvested.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, at 9 a.m. nature and history lovers can learn more about this remarkable project and visit the newly reclaimed orchard. Participants should meet in the ranch parking lot at Jack London State Historic Park where Jack London Park Partners director of operations, Eric Metz will start the day with a presentation on the history and progress of the orchard. The group will then have the option to take a medium-effort, 6-mile (round trip) hike to the orchard for a personalized tour of the various areas that have been given a new lease on life. Visitors can also learn more about the unique challenges they had to overcome to revitalize the different areas, including but not limited to no access to water at the site.

Volunteer Sandy Leonard helps to glean fruit from the historic orchard next to Camp Via.Photo by Paul Goguen

New signage at the orchard asks that visitors enjoy a couple of pieces of fruit but leave the rest for nonprofit partners of the park.Photo by Paul Goguen

Jack London Park Partners’ director of operations Eric Metz with a handful of gleaned fruit.Photo by Paul Goguen