It’s coming on winter, and in our part of the world that means fall and winter fruits show up on our trees—apples are almost done, and for most of us, backyard peaches are a fond memory.
But there are persimmons on our trees along with their blazing foliage, and the lemons are ripening; those of us with other citrus trees like Oro Blanco grapefruit are looking forward to harvest too. It’s been such a weird season—I just swatted a mosquito in my office, for pity’s sake, in November!—that, who knows? We might get another round of attempted summer.
Or there might be a frost before this column runs, four days after it’s written. I’m no prophet; I’m not even Pat Robertson, to threaten small towns with divine vengeance over their school board elections, let alone a plague of unseasonal plums.
Many backyard orchards yield an embarrassment of riches. Unless we’re goddesses of grafting, or have huge households, there’s too much fruit from our mere tree or two to use before it spoils. We can make jam or marmalade till we turn blue, but some years we can’t keep up.
So who gets it? The raccoons and the rats? (Yes, fallen fruit does attract rats.) We can compost it, but ouch, what a waste.
A group called Village Harvest will get your surplus fruit to a local food bank or shelter and if you can’t get up those trees yourself any more, their volunteers will pick it for you. In fact, they’ll pick it, give you as much as you want of it, and donate the rest.
Village Harvest is a commendably efficient enterprise. “We’re all volunteer, and all virtual,” organizer Joni Diserens told me. “We have the website, the free phone number, and some donated storage for our tools. Since the idea is to get fresh fruit to people fast, we don’t need any warehouses for what we pick. We just take it to the people.”
Village Harvest is based and does most of its picking in the Santa Clara valley, logically enough; many of us remember when that was a center for orchards, not computers. Aside from trees from the old days, there are lots of small backyard orchards.
“We have better soil down here than you do in the East Bay,” alleges Diserens—well, OK, it is nice alluvial stuff. “So a lot of these yards are incredibly productive.”
Village Harvest is an offshoot of a project of Diserens and friends and local kids, preserving backyard fruit. Overwhelmed with the amount of fruit they were given, they started the new project, a fast success, says Diserens: “The first year, we had about 50,000 [yes, fifty thousand] pounds of fruit.” Their total so far this year is 100,201 pounds.
Berkeley’s harvest is much smaller. “About 100 to 300 pounds, and we definitely want more,” says Diserens.
“We donate Berkeley’s harvest to Harrison House. For the people there, what we deliver is most of their fresh fruit for the week.” Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency’s Harrison House is a transitional home for people who, after overcoming various setbacks, are moving from street life to homes of their own.
If you’re in the East Bay, especially Berkeley or Oakland, and have surplus fruit in your garden, call Village Harvest’s toll-free line, (888) FRUIT 411—(888) 378-4841—(leave a message) or email your name, address, phone number(s), and email address; the type, number, and size of your trees; and when the fruit will be ripe. Besides picking your fruit if you can’t, they’ll give you a receipt so you can deduct the value of the fruit from your taxes.
Notify your neighbors. Diserens laughs that “The police are always getting called by suspicious neighbors. They know us now, and we always give them some fruit—it’s better than doughnuts!”
If you can pick your own and/or have a small amount to give, Diserens suggests you drop it off at Harrison House, 711 Harrison Street, Berkeley—or, try any other shelter, halfway house, or transitional place you know. Call them first.
Also, visit the Web site at www.villageharvest.org for suggestions on ladderless harvesting, preserving, and backyard orchard techniques in general.›