The gleaners arrived by the carload Saturday morning ready to harvest the rich remnants of this year’s crop of golden delicious and late season red apples.
The plan: pick, box and deliver about 17,000 pounds of Green Bluff fruit to the hungry before a rush of frigid air grips the region this week and ruins what is left.
Every year, gleaners put on their fall flannels to participate in this charitable effort. New to the mix this year is a nonprofit called the Spokane Edible Tree Project, led by Kate Burke.
She organized teams of high school students from Ferris, Rogers and Lewis and Clark, along with many other volunteers, to crawl into the trees or use ladders on a chilly and foggy morning at Hidden Acres Orchards.
“We want to do this because the need in our community is so great,” she said.
Last weekend, Second Harvest pickers collected more than 12,000 pounds of fruit, all part of a fall fruit frenzy that brings in tens of thousands of pounds of fruit left over after the commercial harvest.
What started several years ago has become an important annual undertaking that puts apples into lunch sacks and fruit bowls of hungry families across the Inland Northwest.
The food bank has been gleaning for years with partners including the growers at Green Bluff, school and church groups, businesses and service clubs such as Rotary and Kiwanis.
High up in a tree, Ferris senior Taylor Heath grabbed handfuls of apples, dropping them carefully into a 5-gallon bucket.
Rachel Miller and Alex Pells worked with friends in a pair of trees farther down the row, pulling dozens of apples from branches as part of a Ferris environmental science group project.
While the Green Bluff gleaning is just right for large groups to pick tons of fruit, Burke has a broader goal to bring gleaners into the backyards across Spokane.
She figures, on average, every city block in Spokane has at least one if not several fruit or nut trees.
Much of the bounty falls to the ground in a mushy mass.
Once a piece of fruit falls to the ground it’s considered off-limits to give away.
“It’s crazy how huge it is out there,” Burke said of the potential for harvesting unused fruit.
So she is leveraging social media with plans for an app to make it easier for people to connect and donate their unused fruit.
She’s also building the equivalent of a public tree fruit map. There are hundreds of fruit trees on public lands, she said, that can be mapped and shared with people willing to pick to eat.
Back in the trees, Alan Chatham stretched about as far as he could to pick elusive apples clinging to some of the higher branches, as the fog began to lift at Hidden Acres.
He brushed aside the chill and talked about the importance of helping people.
“This is a really solid program,” he said. “These orchards are just such an awesome resource for our community.
There’s nothing better a person could do with their Saturday morning.”
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