Gleaning as Magic & Empowerment

by Annie Eberhardt

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Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps VISTA for the Spokane Edible Tree Project in Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste, sending it out to those in need. This year, SETP gleaned over 29,000 pounds of produce from going to waste, and Annie learns of the magic and empowerment of gleaning coordination through unexpected circumstances.

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When it comes to gleaning season in Spokane, there is only one thing that can truly be relied on: unexpected circumstances. From coordinating with individual schedules, gathering the community together, and attempting to predict the unpredictable weather, the motto around here tends to be “expect the unexpected.”

To help alleviate the challenges of this, and to further work toward gaining a sound gleaning structure, AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt adopted a new gleaning schedule model for Spokane Edible Tree Project. Starting in July 2018, SETP began conducting Thursday and Saturday gleans each week in an effort to provide consistency. There was also space for a third floater glean during the work week to include employee volunteer groups who wished to help during work hours.

Even with this new model, there was no perfect formula in 2018. Week to week, gleaning sites ranged from large commercial orchards to small backyard trees, which meant that marketing and promotion for each of the gleans had to be adjusted accordingly. It was not desirable to have 15 volunteers show up to glean one backyard tree, nor was it desirable to have 5 volunteers show up to glean a large cherry orchard. This meant that gleans had to occasionally be rescheduled or cancelled to adjust to the varying scope of gleaning sites - every week was an adventure.

One such unexpected scheduling change occurred during the coordination of the very last Saturday Morning Glean of the 2018 season. The last Saturday Morning Glean for SETP is a tale of cancellation, pest management issues, frantic coordination, magic, and heartwarming conclusions.

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It was mid-October. The last weeks were upon SETP, and there was an energetic rush for the VISTA to gather and unite the community to harvest the last apples of the season. Most of the gleans were scheduled, saved for the last October glean.

Like magic, an orchard, just north of Spokane, was ripe and ready for a large group to glean during the last weekend. It opened up just in time for the VISTA to recruit a large group of youth volunteers who were available for the glean.

Fast forward to a week later. The orchard owner reached out to the VISTA to inform SETP that the apples were wormy. Since apples with pest issues are unfortunately unable to be accepted by food banks, the VISTA was now put in a position to try to find a new orchard for the volunteer group to glean. Again, the energetic rush was back, and the possibility of cancellation was in the air.

True to form, the magic acted up again. On October 23rd, five days before the gleans, three very synchronistic things happened: the original youth group suddenly had to cancel, a new apple orchard reached out to the VISTA in hopes of scheduling a glean, and a new volunteer group reached out to the VISTA in hopes of helping with the final October glean. The formula was back on track, and the beginning of building new relationships was on the horizon.

The volunteer group who reached out to help was a group of women and children from a local shelter. The women were in healing the process of recovery, getting back on their feet with their families in a safe environment. As the VISTA spent time with them, it was learned that their shelter lived entirely on donated food. The original plan was to donate the gleaned apples to one of SETP’s larger community distribution partners. However, upon learning of the circumstances, the VISTA decided to donate all the fruit to the women and children who gleaned them.

The women and children took the apples back to their home, all 442 pounds of them. They shared the apples with their fellow residents, eating the fruit fresh, as well as making a big apple crisp to share with the shelter. It was heartwarming to see community members in need becoming empowered, taking action to feed their families, friends, and neighbors.

Sure, there is no perfect gleaning formula. There is no absolute way to provide certainty for how a gleaning event will go, or how a harvest season will be. During that brisk October weekend, the VISTA learned that unexpected circumstances are the perfect formula.

It’s where the magic lives.  

Reflections of a Summer VISTA

By Ariel Aaronson-Eves

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I chose to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with Spokane Edible Tree Project because, as a newcomer to Spokane, I wanted a way to immerse myself in the local ecosystem, that of farms and non-profits and people alongside that of plants. I've learned a good deal in this role, from how to identify and control cherry fruit fly to how excessive heat can slow the ripening of stone fruits. I've learned a lot about running a non-profit and how to fundraise and much, much more. I've gotten to work with hardworking and generous farmers up in Green Bluff and work on cultivating and deepening relationships with them. I can't help but see the abundance of fruit growing in residential Spokane neighborhoods. I've gotten to spread the good word of our work to nearly everyone I meet, from passers-by at the Perry Street Fair and VegFest to folks I meet around town. I've gotten to eat a lot of delicious fresh fruit, and I've helped get thousands of pounds of local produce into the hands of folks who wouldn't otherwise have access.

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I've been struggling to write a final reflection on my time with Spokane Edible Tree Project because it doesn't feel like an ending, it feels like a beginning. It is just the first chapter of my life in Spokane. I feel grounded in this place because, as I have gleaned and scouted trees, it has fed me. I know the tastes of Spokane in June, July, and August. I have taken this place into my body with every bite, and although I may not be from here, I will carry Spokane with me in my body for at least the next seven years. This, I think, is part of the power of local foods — they bind us, irrevocably, to a place. I can't imagine a better way to have gotten to know Spokane.

Glean For Good: Thursday Night and Saturday Morning Gleans

Starting Thursday, July 5!

Gleaning season is about to begin and this year, Spokane Edible Tree Project will be hosting regular gleans on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 and Saturday mornings from 9 or 10 until noon. We will also have occasional gleans scheduled ad hoc at other times during the week, but our hope is that having consistently scheduled volunteer gleaning opportunities will provide useful structure for our volunteers, our staff, and our tree owners.

We intend to start our regularly scheduled gleans the first week of July and run through the end of October. There will of course be some exceptions, as dictated by the fruit availability, the weather, and occasional other commitments. We’ve set up mailing lists especially for our Thursday night and Saturday morning gleans, where we will send out information each week, and will also be posting information on our Facebook page. You can sign up for the Thursday and Saturday mailing lists through the buttons below.

SETP Hosts Food Forest Planting Event at Polly Judd

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April and early May is the time for Spokane Gives Month in the beautiful city of Spokane. Spokane Gives Month presents an opportunity for community members to give back by participating in volunteer projects throughout the city. The initiative is generously put on by our friends over at United Way Spokane.  

On May 5th, 2018, Spokane Edible Tree Project participated in the initiative by hosting a Food Forest Planting Event with Friends of Polly Judd at Polly Judd Park in an effort to build up the long time dream of having a Food Forest in the heart of the park. 

With the help of native shrub donations from the Spokane Conservation District, a Spokane Gives Initiative Grant from Spokane County United Way, and the hard work of a volunteer crew, 14 edible trees and shrubs were added to the Polly Judd Food Forest. Two filbert, two apricot, five native elderberries and five native Saskatoon serviceberries were planted.

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The sod was cut from the ground as the first step, followed by the digging of holes at proper depth. This was not always easy. Rocks had to be broken, which were removed from the soil and repurposed as rock mulch for the Polly Judd native pollinator garden. The rocks were also used to begin creating a rock wall around the garden. When the holes were finally dug, the trees were placed in the Earth, surrounded with the field soil, and wood chips were placed around the trees to act as a mulch.

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The Polly Judd Food Forest is also part of the The Susie Forest Foundation. Susie was an avid cyclist and activist for pedestrian rights. Tragically, she was killed in a motor vehicle accident 15 years ago while actively pursuing her mission to create positive change in this world. Her mother, Nancy MacKerrow, lives in the lower south hill neighborhood in Spokane. After Susie’s death, she set up a Susie Forest Foundation to honor her by planting trees as a way of bringing back life from a tragic situation. Two plum trees and a linden tree were planted in her honor at the Polly Judd Earth Day Celebration in 2018, which Spokane Edible Tree project was honored to be a part of. As a dedication, community members wrote their hopes down on paper and hung them on the branches of the trees. The sentiment is that the hopes of the community will eventually biodegrade into the soil, alchemizing them to become one with the tree.

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