Spokane Edible Tree Project (SETP), a site of Harvest Against Hunger, mobilizes volunteers to glean fruit from backyard trees and commercial orchards that would otherwise go to waste. Annie Eberhardt is serving as the third AmeriCorps VISTA for SETP, and worked to continue a partnership with a brewery by providing damaged fruit for a brew to benefit SETP.
Although winter is afoot in Spokane, there is still a little slice of the summer harvest fermenting here in town. At Bellwether Brewing Company, a local brewery in the heart of the city, there is a special Spokane Edible Tree Project concoction working to transform into a tasty beverage.
All summer, Annie Eberhardt, the third Harvest Against Hunger VISTA for SETP, has been mobilizing volunteers to glean fruit from going to waste in Spokane County. The majority of the fruit collected is impeccable in quality, easily able to be donated to food pantries and impoverished communities.
However, every now and again, there would be a backyard tree with hail damaged fruit, or even a crop that was just a little too overripe to reasonably donate due to shelf life storage. Annie made it her mission to give this perfectly good fruit a home whenever possible. Luckily, SETP has an existing partnership with Bellwether Brewing Company.
The partnership started in 2017, when SETP gave Bellwether hail damaged plums to concoct plum beer. For the life of the batch, SETP received $1 per pint of the brew served to the public.
The partnership continued this harvest season with more than just plums. This year, there was a peck of slightly too-ripe peaches, a bunch of slightly damaged cherries, and even some organic apples with nicks and dings. Using the changing fruits as a creative opportunity, Bellwether gladly accepted the fruit donation and is continuing to make a partner brew with SETP. The cherry, peach, honey-barley beer with dried apples for added flavor is to be released in the Spring of 2019. Again, $1 from each pint served will be donated to SETP for the life of the batch.
Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Projectin 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.
When it comes to gleaning season, there is only one thing that can truly be relied on: unexpected circumstances. From the hustle and bustle of coordinating with tree owners, farmers, and individual volunteers, there is no surefire formula for gleaning coordination.
To help alleviate the challenges of this, and further work toward gaining a good formula, HAH AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt adopted a new gleaning schedule model for Spokane Edible Tree Project to help with the recruitment of a consistent volunteer base. Starting in July 2018, SETP began conducting weekly scheduled gleans in an effort to provide a dependable time frame for volunteers and tree owners alike. Thus, Thursday Night Gleans and Saturday Morning Gleans were born. 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. 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.
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 to glean on the Sunday of October 28th. With the recruitment of a small group of regular SETP volunteers to glean the day before, on the 27th, the gleaning formula was turning out to be just about as perfect as it could be.
Fast forward to a week later. The orchard owner reached out to the VISTA to inform SETP that the apples were wormy. Since the apple orchard had been gleaned by SETP many times before in previous years, the VISTA had not thought it necessary to arrange a tree scout. Since wormy apples would not be accepted by food banks, the VISTA was now put in a position to try to find a new orchard for the volunteer groups to glean. Again, the energetic rush was back, and the possibility of cancellation was in the air.
Again, the magic acted up. 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 a glean on Sunday. The formula was back on track, and the beginning of building new relationships was on the horizon.
The volunteer group who came to the farm to glean on Sunday, October 28th, was a group of women and children from a local shelter. The women were in recovery from drugs and alcohol, getting back on their feet with their families in a safe environment. Most of them had never seen an orchard before and were excited to get outside and be a part of the glean. 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 other 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 took the apples back to their home, all 442 pounds of them. They shared the apples with the 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 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 weekend, the VISTA learned that unexpected circumstances are the perfect formula. It’s where the magic lives.
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 coordinating volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste.
This September, HAHA VISTA Annie made a special partnership in the community. Dedicated to mobilizing volunteers to harvest fruit from unwanted trees, SETP aided in mobilizing refugee citizens to share in the bounty of fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to waste by partnering with Refugee Connections.
Refugee Connections is an organization committed to empowering refugee citizens to thrive in the Spokane community. One way of doing this is to see that these community members can get outside to harvest fruits and vegetables, bringing them back to their own communities. Together, SETP and Refugee Connections gleaned 243 pounds of apples and 246 pounds of plums. With buckets, crates, and boxes filled to the brim with the abundant fruit, the produce was taken back to the homes of the refugees. Upon arrival, the community members bagged up the produce for each of the 28 apartment units, feeding approximately 80 people who lived in the community. The volunteers were able to enjoy a sunny morning of harvesting, time spent with friends, and the satisfaction of contributing wholesome food to their loved ones.
In Spokane, Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt has fully welcomed in the presence of plums. All over town, tree owners have been reaching out to Spokane Edible Tree Project with the intention of not seeing their beautiful little stone fruits go to waste. Spokane Edible Tree Project mobilizes volunteers to glean produce from fruit and nut trees that would otherwise go to waste in Spokane county. There are over 140 backyard tree owners and 28 farmers who are registered with the project, all hoping to share the bounty of excess produce with their neighbors who need it most.
Just two weeks ago, a long time registered tree owner of SETP hastily called Annie at SETP Headquarters, urging the SETP Glean Team to come harvest her lush, golden plums – to resuce them from the fate of rotting in her backyard, uneaten. “I have golden plums coming out of my ears,” she insisted. “They are just about to be at perfect ripeness within a couple of days; please come harvest as soon as you can, Glean Team!”
Rushing to diligently make sure these golden plums could find homes with hungry community members in need, Annie quickly banded together a group of employees from a local Spokane office. With the heat wave that has been encompassing the area lately and the significance of tone from the tree owner, there was a sense of needing to hurry.
The Glean Team met on a sunny morning at the gleaning site, just north of Spokane. They were excited to give back to their community and to take a refreshing break from the office. There was just one problem – most of the plums were not yet close to being ripe! The situation was looked upon by the SETP Glean Team with some humor and some good laughs, as the rushing had become a silly notion for the plums that were still a bit green and firm, with pointed tips at the bottom of the fruit signifying the need for further development. The team gleaned what small amount they could, and left back to the office to await the natural ripening to occur.
Puzzled, Annie researched into this phenomenon, and busted a long-time myth she had always believed – extreme heat does not always mean that fruit will ripen faster! In fact, with most stone fruit, extreme heat causes the fruit to slow down its ripening process in an effort to save the fruit from dropping its seeds in conditions that are not suited to seed germination.
In the end, the same small group of local volunteers came back a week later with SETP, helping to glean 500 pounds of golden plums from the trees! There was no sense of rushing this time – only the zen satisfaction of being up in a tree, tasting the fresh sweetness of golden fruit, and the sense of peace that comes from participating in work that truly makes a difference.
In the summer of 2017, Spokane Edible Tree Project received a call from a tree owner whose plums had been damaged by hail. Though still perfectly edible, the cosmetic damage made the fruit undesirable by food banks.
Plums damaged by hail, a few weeks before they were harvested by SETP volunteers.
Wanting to find a way to save more plums from waste, SETP approached a local brewery and asked if they would like to try making beer with the plums. Soon after, 226 pounds of gleaned golden plums were delivered to Bellwether Brewing Company. Their head brewer, Thomas, created a Belgian-style tripel with the plums, then blended it with a wine barrel-aged imperial rye. Each pour of the ale would benefit SETP.
On a Thursday evening in January, they celebrated the release of their ale. Community members were invited to try the beer and learn about the partnership. Local musician Drew Blincow provided entertainment. It was a unique opportunity for SETP to introduce themselves to more community members, raise some funds, and promote their gleaning program. $1 from every beer sold will be donated back to Spokane Edible Tree Project.
Drew Blincow plays music at the plum ale release party.
A second collaborative brew is underway. Apples from a November glean were dried and delivered to Bellwether. Now their brewers are working their magic, and a release is expected later in the year. This collaboration was also featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting, though the amount of plums gleaned was 234 not 30 as the article mentions here.
A brewery staff member holds bags of dried apples delivered by Spokane Edible Tree Project.
Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA member Nicki Thompson, who serves with the Spokane Edible Tree Project, coordinated a series of gleans at Resurrection Orchard in the Spokane Valley this autumn.
The history of the orchard is something of a mystery to its current caretakers, who guess that the trees might have been planted in the 1940s or 1950s. Around two dozen large trees — mostly apple, with some crabapple and pear trees among them — produce varieties of fruit that predate the familiar varieties of today. One variety is presumed to be a predecessor of the common Red Delicious, bearing fruits that are smaller and more concentrated in flavor than the ubiquitous modern-day apples.
This year, three gleans were hosted at the orchard. Spokane Edible Tree Project’s newest distribution partner, Northwest Harvest, joined them for the first two. 3,385 pounds were taken to Northwest Harvest’s Spokane Valley warehouse for distribution to food banks and high need schools in Eastern Washington.
During the third glean, volunteers picked an additional 1,500 pounds. The apples were split between three organizations bringing food to low-income community members: 2nd Harvest, Blessings Under the Bridge, and Food For All. This season, about 4,900 pounds of apples were gleaned at the orchard with the help of roughly 50 volunteers.
Spokane Edible Tree Project continues to build strong ties with the caretakers of Resurrection Orchard. In March, they plan to co-host a grafting workshop and a scion wood exchange so community members can try growing different varieties of fruit suited to the Inland Northwest climate.