23 Jan Fruits of Labor
Jamie Poster is a Masters of Public Policy Candidate ‘14 at UCLA, concentrating in regional economic development and pursuing a certificate in Urban Humanities.
She volunteers for Food Forward and this is her story.
How did you hear about Food Forward (FF) and what made you decide to volunteer?
I began volunteering for them in the office in April 2013 and I saw that opportunity posted on a job board. I actually have back problems, and during my interview for the office position they were like, “You know this is NOT a field position. You will not be harvesting fruit.” I was like, “My back hurts, I want nothing to do with
picking fruit.” And then I started to notice homeowners who we couldn’t get to because our volunteers were at capacity. Additionally, I started noticing EVERY fruit tree I drove past. Each tree I saw made me a little more motivated to volunteer because we have such an abundance of nutrition in Southern California, where we pretty much have some kind of fruit ripening on the street year round. I just started to feel the burn to get the fruit to those who need it most. So, that’s how I ended up helping with FF harvests.
What does a typical day’s picking involve?
Normally you tell the homeowner you’ve arrived. That’s always fun because, in my experience, they always kind of forget that you’re coming. Then they normally walk you around to the back, or direct you to wherever their tree is, and this is one of my favorite parts because people are, rightfully so, AMAZED by their trees. They’ll stand there and point and be like, “There’s just so much of it.” I visited a kumquat tree in Mar Vista during the summer and the homeowner kept repeating, “They told me it was going to be a shrub!” as she pointed to the 300+ fruiting tree that was creeping over the roof of her house. Sometimes the homeowner isn’t even there, so that’s not even a typical day’s pick. But other times homeowners will come out with homemade cookies, or water, or they’ll have another tree with less fruit that they’ll want you to take some fruit from. Then you have to take a deep breath because cleaning up any mess is kind of daunting, but whereas I could clean my room until the cows come home and there would still be some pile of dust that’s accumulated, picking a fruit tree is a very visible and surprisingly quick success. The tree begins to lift as the weight of the fruit is relieved from its branches. Your boxes begin to fill and then there’s a moment where you’re like, “Oh my goodness, in an hour we just created a ridiculous in-kind donation!” At private homes, poundage for a citrus normally ranges between 100-1000. But, one time, I did a pick at Orcutt Ranch and we’d pick something ridiculous like 4000 pounds of grapefruits. It was a bigger pick and there were around 20 volunteers, but in an hour we’d harvested 2 tons, or the equivalent of a $4000 in kind donation… I mean, that’s pretty crazy.
So yeah, the experience for me is less about being up a tree and more about talking to the homeowners and seeing results. But that’s just one person’s experience. Like I said, I’m not really into manual labor or climbing trees, though I’m starting to see the pleasure is puzzling your way up a tree (but normally we just use a ladder).
Does it require any particular training?
No training. The pick leaders are trained. And it’s pretty straight forward, especially for citrus. You just grab it. Something like a pear or apple is a little trickier because you can’t break the skin otherwise you can’t donate it.
How long does it take? Does the owner have to be there?
It takes as long as the volunteers are available. The owner does not have to be there, so long as the owner is comfortable with that kind of arrangement. Sometimes, if I’m solo picking and I just have an hour and the homeowner is home, I’ll just tell them I only have an hour and I’ll get what I can get. You know, you do the best that you can with the resources that you have. Some people are taller than others and can access more fruit, some people have ladders, other people have more time… You just do the best you can.
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