Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 29, 2011

When life gives you lemons ...

Locals make good use of surplus fruit

by Karla Kane / photographs Veronica Weber

A yard full of fruit trees can offer fragrant blossoms, lovely looks and healthy snacks. But what to do when a yard is so, well, fruitful that you end up with more bounty than you and your neighbors can eat? Rather than letting it go to waste, one option is to donate the surplus fruit to organizations that feed the needy.

Village Harvest is a local nonprofit that sends teams of volunteers into yards and orchards in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to pick excess fruit for those who've signed up with the service. The nutritious fruit is then donated to nearby food banks and agencies.

Village Harvest volunteers pick fruit in Palo Alto about once a month. Priority is given to locations with the largest abundance of fruit, types of fruit that can be most useful to food banks, and residents who are physically unable to harvest the fruit themselves, volunteer Craig Diserens said.

Palo Alto and its environs are home to a variety of fruit. Oranges, lemons and grapefruits are most common this time of year, he said, with summer stone fruits coming next.

"Every fruit has its fans," he said, describing one resident who expressed disbelief that anyone would be interested in lemons. "Lemons are incredibly desirable," he added.

But it's not all common fruit like apples and oranges. Village Harvest recently gathered 500 pounds of kiwifruit in San Jose.

Appropriate for the school known as "The Farm," Stanford University also has an overabundance of fruit on campus, thanks to the thousands of decorative fruit trees that beautify the grounds. The Stanford Gleaning Project, a student-run organization, harvests the fruit from Stanford's landscaping and faculty-housing yards and donates it to The Free Farm Stand in San Francisco's Mission District, which distributes free fresh produce to the community.

Susannah Reed Poland co-founded the Gleaning Project two years ago as a freshman, inspired by professor Page Chamberlain, who's been active with the Free Farm Stand. Reed Poland, a lifelong gardener who grew up in Massachusetts, found Stanford to be "a botanical oasis," with trees including orange, lemon, kumquat, loquat, persimmon, pomegranate, apple, fig, avocado, clementine, tangerine, almond and grapefruit. It broke her heart to see the fruits rotting on the tree.

"It started just as a group of friends picking fruit. We decided to harvest the bounty we have in our own landscape here and distribute it to 'food deserts,' where it is difficult to get fresh organic produce," she said.

Stanford groundskeepers were more than happy to help the students locate harvestable trees; they've now created an official map.

"We've discovered more and more. There is so much potential," she said.

Groups of student volunteers harvest fruit twice a week during peak seasons. Recently, 200 pounds of oranges were harvested from two trees alone, in under an hour.

"It's astounding," Reed Poland said. The project is important both to provide healthy food to the needy "and to help Stanford recognize and appreciate what's growing, to see it as food," she said. Stanford students and staff have a disconnect between the fruit growing on a tree and the food served at the dining hall, she said.

A self-sustainability movement to serve the fruit grown on campus in the dining halls, rather than trucking in outside produce, is sometimes discussed, she said, but usually quickly dismissed by school administration due to potential liability and supply issues. The Gleaning Project, she added, is more motivated by the ability of the privileged to share with those who lack access.

The fruit itself is sometimes smaller than store bought, "but absolutely beautiful and delicious. And there's enough to go around; we're limited only by time and volunteers," she said. As the project gains momentum and participants, students would also like to branch out into Palo Alto and help harvest fruit from homes as well.

"We're overwhelmed by citrus right now. Our primary focus is on campus but there is so much in the surrounding neighborhoods, we'd like to know what's out there," she said.

Village Harvest, too, receives far more requests to harvest than its volunteers can immediately accommodate. "We can only get to a small fraction," Diserens said.

But you don't need to go through an organization to donate extra fruit. "We encourage people who are able to pick their own fruit and take it directly to a food agency close by," he said. Village Harvest provides a list of such agencies online.

Village Harvest is also always looking for volunteer pickers.

"It's an incredibly fun experience, and a great antidote to office work. It's a very tangible accomplishment, a very satisfying thing. You walk up to a tree and in 15 minutes you've converted fruit to food ..."

Info: www.villageharvest.org or 888 FRUIT 411; stanfordglean.blogspot.com

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For more Home and Real Estate news, visit www.paloaltoonline.com/real_estate.

Editorial Assistant Karla Kane can be emailed at kkane@paweekly.com.

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