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.


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.