Fruit Tree Gleans

Many fruit tree harvests are backyard fruit trees hidden right in your community. Home owners will have a range of fruit tree knowledge, and this can sometimes make it a bit challenging to coordinate a glean. A new home-owner may not be familiar with when the fruit ripens, which makes it a bit trickier to harvest the fruit at the most ideal time.

Tips for Coordinating Fruit Tree Gleans:

TIMING:It can be tricky to time harvests for ideal storage and consumption, especially with fruit that softens quickly on the tree (plums and cherries). It is ideal to harvest plums and cherries when ripe but not too soft for ideal storage (this is challenging to time, so when planning a glean wait until the week they are ripe to plan the harvest event). Apples have a more flexible window of time. A good rule of thumb is when the homeowner sees them falling from the tree, or when they taste good, they are generally ready for harvest!

PHOTOGRAPH THE TREE: It is super helpful to have the home owner take a photo of tree to send to the gleaning coordinator so you know what to expect and how to prepare (if a ladder is needed, how much fruit, hazards around tree, etc). Some trees are just not ideal for gleaning if they are too tall, so it will save you a lot of time coordinating a glean that is just above your program’s capacity. At the end of the glean, snap a photo of the tree to document to remember for a future coordinating event

HOW MANY VOLUNTEERS? The best way to know how many volunteers will be needed is to ask for a photo of tree or estimate from tree owner. The number of volunteers needed will vary based on the size of the tree and amount of fruit. Make a note for future purposes how many volunteers would be ideal for the tree (this can vary from year to year based on tree’s production).

PETS: Ask if the homeowner has any pets to give volunteers a heads up, or request they leave the pets inside if necessary.

Training specific to fruit tree harvests 

  • Train volunteers how to use ladder safely.

  • Tree climbing: volunteers are usually very willing and excited to climb trees to reach more fruit. Of course that adds an additional risk to your program. Discuss with your organization if this is okay.

  • See article on row crops gleans for additional training tips.

Equipment Needed

  • Ladders – when harvesting back yard fruit trees, homeowners are often very willing to lend their ladder to the project.

  • Fruit Pickers – hand harvesting with ladders is much more efficient, but fruit pickers can be fun to use (useful if there are very few apples/pears/plum on tree).

  • Storage Boxes

  • Plastic Grocery Bags: make a quick/cheap harvesting bag when harvesting on a ladder or hand picking.

  • Alcohols Spray: (sanitizing orchard equipment) ask orchardists about specific equipment preferences/practices.

Project Harvest is a first year gleaning program at Volunteers of America Western Washington, providing local produce to the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition. Volunteers of America Western Washington is the home of the Snohomish County Distribution Center, a centralized warehouse which distributes food to the 20 partners of the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition before it is given to families and individuals in need.

In the first year of program development, Project Harvest worked in collaboration with RFH, VOAWW, and the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition to develop new relationships with local farms and create volunteer gleaning opportunities. The first year of the program was focused on spreading awareness of the program’s mission, building partnerships, developing gleaning best practices, and hosting gleaning events to supply Snohomish County food banks with more farm fresh produce. Within the first year of the program many volunteers jumped on the opportunity to harvest produce on local commercial farms, the local Port of Everett Farmers market, and backyard fruit trees! 

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