Thanks to a small army of volunteer gleaners and two counties full of fruit, the taste of summer is alive and well in winter. This past season, despite pandemic-imposed limitations, gleaners from Joyce to Nordland harvested thousands of pounds of produce — and then gave it away.
“We donated to the Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks food banks as well as many of the tribal food banks, the Little Free Pantries, and friends, family and neighbors in need,” said Sharah Truett, coordinator of Washington State University’s Clallam County Extension gleaning program.
Her small groups of volunteers harvested cherries, blueberries, apples and other crops from homeowners’ trees and from local farms: 5,433 pounds of produce, according to the official count.
“Overall, we recorded about half as much produce collected as last year,” she said, and there were times when food pantries hadn’t the space for the incoming. Gleaners instead shared their harvest with people they knew were in need.
There was a different kind of abundance, as Truett sees it.
“I heard of many gleaners making extra pies and homemade jams, and dropping them off at their elderly neighbor’s doorstep while stopping by for a socially distanced chat,” she said.
“For me, and I hope for others, the gleaning program was a real optimistic bright spot of an otherwise grim year,” when masks and distancing replaced carpools and conversation.
“This year was our biggest year ever, by a lot,” said Seth Rolland, who coordinates the Local 20/20 Quimper Community Harvest gleaning team in Jefferson County.
“We delivered 18,254 pounds of fruit to 17 organizations,” he announced at the end of the year, noting the recipients included county food banks, nursing homes and schools in Chimacum and Port Townsend.
“We picked and delivered about 10,766 plums, 426 pears, 1,888 Asian pears and 51,754 apples,” Rolland reported at the close of 2020.
His 40 volunteers include Laurie Levites, known as the “queen of the orchard,” and Jim Moore, finder of a new piece of gear, a machine that turns hundreds of pounds of apples into sauce in a matter of hours.
The Quimper team pitched in to buy it, then put it to work in the Port Townsend School District kitchen.
Over the course of six weeks this past fall, the gleaners washed, cooked and processed 5,449 pounds of applesauce.
Now, Stacey Larsen, head of food service for the Port Townsend School District, is using the sauce in hundreds of breakfasts and lunches each week, feeding children in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s free meal program.
“We still have a bunch,” Larsen said last week, adding she and her workers tuck applesauce cups or scratch-made muffins and bars into the meals, which are either picked up at Salish Coast Elementary School or delivered around town.
Any family can receive the breakfasts and lunches, Larsen said.
“We do have pickup in front of Salish Coast,” weekdays, she added; “people can just pop over there if they want to,” outside the school at 1637 Grant St. in Port Townsend.
For more information, email Larsen at email@example.com or call the school district office at 360-379-4501.
In Clallam County, Truett said the harvest keeps on giving.
“I know many gleaners made jam: cherry jam, yellow plum jam, plum butter. Some canned apples for pies and baking in the winter. Some made fruit leather, like plum leather. Some made canned and frozen applesauce,” she said, “and some made jam and passed it out to friends and neighbors and frontline workers.”
Picking produce can be a therapeutic and sweet experience, Truett added.
Both she and Rolland said their gleaners were careful with safety protocols, wearing masks, spreading out and washing their hands again and again.
“When we were out in the cherry orchard on that beautiful sunny day, chatting and harvesting in the sunshine, we felt like normal people for just a little bit,” Truett said.
“Just normal people, wearing masks and picking beautiful cherries.”
To learn how to volunteer as a gleaner later this year, contact Truett at 360-565-2619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Jefferson County, contact Rolland in Port Townsend at email@example.com or visit L2020.org and use the Action Groups and Local Food links.