Gleaners gear up for picking season

Nanaimo gleaners are getting prepped to reap the benefits of what could be a bumper crop of fruit this year.

Lee Sanmiya

Lee Sanmiya

Nanaimo gleaners are getting prepped to reap the benefits of what could be a bumper crop of fruit this year.

The gleaning program, run by Nanaimo Foodshare, is in its ninth year and Lee Sanmiya, gleaning program coordinator, said it should be a good one.

“The fruit looks good,” she said. “The apples are fruiting nicely and the cherries look better than last year.”

Gleaning is an ancient practice that at one time provided opportunities for those in need to gather leavings after harvest.

According to longtime gleaning volunteer Judy Papilowski, it’s also a means today of minimizing food waste, improving food security and contributing to social service agencies, churches and individuals who may not be able to get out and pick their own fruit.

“We donate to senior homes for example, and they make jams and jellies which the residents use for fundraising,” she said.

Created in 2003, the program has had its ups and downs in the amount of fruit harvested. In 2008 volunteers picked more than 11,400 kilograms of fruit with the following year only producing 6,800 kg.

“Weather, pollination and the number of people calling in with extra fruit impact how much we get,” said Papilowski.

But having extra fruit isn’t the only reason people connect with gleaning teams. Papilowski said she also picks to help those who can’t harvest their own.

“Gleaners share the fruit between themselves and the owner. And though it isn’t mandated, we do encourage our teams to give 30 per cent to non-traditional community venues like seniors homes and churches, as well as regular agencies,” said Sanmiya.

With more than 57,000 kg picked since the program’s inception, the bounty is being put to good use and spread generously around Nanaimo.

“We’re always looking for fresh fruits and veggies,” said Alex Counsell, operations manager at Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank. “Last year we got lots of baking apples from gleaners. For people who don’t know what to do with them, we print up educational flyers.”

In past years, Foodshare has offered classes in various methods of safe food preservation, but this year, with gaming funding being cut, Sanmiya isn’t sure the classes will take place.

“It’s great for people to be involved in the whole food process, from picking to preserving. It gives a real sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, with the funding shortfall we have to scale back,” she said.

The good news, along with a better crop, is the systems Sanmiya and volunteers like Papilowski have created to ensure the continuation and propagation of the program.

Gleaners attend a short 45-minute orientation on picking and homeowner safety issues, equipment needed and expectations of the owner. Team leaders, who are seasoned gleaners, get a location and co-ordinate their group of pickers.  After the pick, the fruit is divvied out with the donated portion dropped off at a chosen location.

Though fruit is delayed by a few weeks Sanmiya is gearing up for the start of the cherry season and hopes it will be a good one.

Nanaimo residents who need help harvesting fruit trees, or would like to glean, can call Sanmiya at 250-816-4769.

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