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Comox produce gleaning a win-win-win for all

Mark’s local raccoons might have been a bit disappointed these past few years, but his plum tree has been a win-win-win for everyone else since he connected with LUSH Valley.

Lush pears plums vert WEB SIZE.jpgMark’s plum tree is one of 130 sites that LUSH Valley Food Action Society’s picking crews have visited this year as part of their produce gleaning program.

Farms and orchards that need help picking, or residents with fruit-producing plants and trees can sign up for the program, allowing pickers and LUSH Valley to share in the bounty.

Under the program, the produce or fruit is split into four. One quarter goes to volunteer pickers, one quarter to the owners, a quarter to LUSH programs like their Good Food Box or distributed to other charities, and the last quarter of lower-quality fruit gets pressed into juice and sold in local stores, raising funds for the program.

As of the end of September, about 17,000 lbs of fruit has been harvested this year, with the program reaching 25,000 lbs of fruit during the whole of last year’s season, says Kate, harvest coordinator for LUSH.

Some of that came from Mark’s yellow plum tree.

Since offering his tree up to LUSH a few years ago, Mark has become a volunteer picker, and a deliverer of Good Food Boxes.

He says he sees a lot of fruit trees in the Comox Valley that don’t get picked and has become a strong proponent for LUSH’s gleaning program.

“If you don’t use this fruit, it will completely go to waste,” says Mark. The gleaning program turns the fruit tree back into an asset for all involved, which Mark calls a “Win, win, win situation,” where owners get fruit picked for them that they otherwise would have left to rot, pickers get a share and LUSH gets a share.

“I see this over and over again with LUSH – everyone seems to benefit. No one loses.”

Mark said he’s been particularly impressed by LUSH’s knowledge of the various fruits available in the region and what they can be best used for. His plums, for instance, are quite soft and juicy, making them ideal for those with poor teeth. LUSH had a particular charity in mind with clients who would appreciate that, said Mark.

“It was this intimate connection from my plum tree right down to the teeth that ate the plum. I was just really impressed.”

Vicki has been a volunteer picker with LUSH for four or five years now, ever since a member of her church brought in a basket of fruit to share. LUSH volunteers had picked her tree, and the church member still had more than enough fruit to share.

“I thought that was great,” says Vicki when she learned about how the program works. Keen to volunteer for a good cause and partake of local fruitsLush Apples boxes WEB SIZE.jpg and veggies, Vicki began volunteering.

“I love it, because I know where [the produce] came from – I picked it off the tree or I pulled out of the ground …  and I get to know more people in the community.”

But volunteer pickers have a variety of motivations, says Vicki. Some are single parents who bring their kids along, wanting to show the benefit of volunteering and local produce, or who are looking for an affordable way to get healthy food. Others don’t have enough space for a fruit tree or garden of their own but can get the benefits this way. And others just want to help and tap into local growers’ knowledge.

Vicki says she’s particularly impressed by LUSH’s logistics, making sure that what fruit and vegetables are available make it to a variety of other organizations and schools that can use it, in addition to their own food box and meal programs.

“It’s an amazing organization, just knowing that they do all of that, so things do not go to waste,” says Vicki.

And all that hard work by LUSH organizers and volunteers, is very much appreciated by those who benefit. Mark has witnessed it himself while making deliveries.

“I’m greeted with such warmth at the door of these people's houses, and they are so grateful.”

It’s for all these reasons that United Way British Columbia chooses to partner with LUSH’s gleaning program and many other food security programs in central and northern Vancouver Island. But it’s donations from people like you that make these programs possible.

Please, if you can, consider donating today.

If you are in need of support, please call 2-1-1, and a bc211 Navigator will direct you to help near you.