The neighbor's plums were ripe and just begging to be picked. After dropping from the tree, littering the ground with rotted fruit, the neighbors considered the abundance a nuisance.
For John and Jean Wilkinson, it became a call to action.
In 2008, they organized Walla Walla Gleaners, a group dedicated to working in cooperation with local farmers, orchard owners,and backyard gardeners to harvest excess or unmarketable produce that would otherwise go to waste.
From single apple trees to acres of commercial sweet onions, volunteer gleaners work to collect unwanted produce and distribute it to members and eighteen food service organizations.
For the farmer, gleaning transforms surplus crops into an abundant source of fresh food for the gleaning community, local food banks, hot meal centers, and others in need.
For the backyard gardener, gleaning helps keep gardens and fruit trees clean of rotting vegetables and fruits, reducing many common garden and fruit tree pests and diseases.
For the gleaner, gleaning promotes a sense of self-sufficiency and camaraderie by encouraging friends and neighbors to work together to help themselves as well as share with those in need.
Pat Camp, past president of the Walla Walla Gleaners, says she already has a large garden and fruit trees.
"My interest in gleaning isn't about personally using the gleaned produce but in eliminating waste or better yet, getting still edible and nutritious food to people in our community who need it.
"The decision to donate what I glean was cemented while delivering boxes of apricots to Pantry Shelf. Two people waiting in line asked what kind of fruit I was carrying - they'd never eaten fresh apricots! Fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly needed by the food banks to supplement their bulk and dry commodities."
A retired college professor says she absolutely loves the out of doors and all her life has enjoyed picking fruit. She says there is nothing nicer than going out to the orchard and picking your own fruit right off the tree or the vine.
One glean she especially enjoyed last year took place in a huge field in a lovely setting outside of Milton Freewater.
"There was so much abundance, you have never seen so many squash in all your life. I was so pleased to know they would not be wasted and would also be going to the needy. I still have one buttercup squash in my garage from that glean and it is surprisingly still good."
Another Gleaner says his first gleaning job was to deliver a Walla Walla Sweet Onions glean to Helpline, St. Vincent de Paul, and the Senior Center.
"It was so rewarding because they were incredibly happy to get those onions. The onions weren't large enough to be marketable, but they were still delicious Walla Walla Sweets and they would have gone to waste."
Jessica Salvador, a 26-year-old teacher at the community college says she was drawn to Gleaners because "here was a community dedicated not only to providing food for itself, but also sharing it with food banks at the same time doing something to actually avoid wasting food. It seemed like a neat way to deal with food considering how much food goes to waste even off our dinner plates."
Jessica's favorite glean of the summer was cherry picking. She got up early and drove out to a little family farm that was located by a lovely bubbling brook.
Since she was one of the younger pickers, Jessica climbed high on a ladder. The whole experience of being up in that cherry tree, listening to the brook, and the fresh warm summer morning was nourishing to her spirit as was the joy of getting good ripe cherries to eat and share.
Dolores Sutton, a high-spirited, senior citizen and widow with a low income says she found Gleaners offered a way she could supplement her food supply. Dolores has great-grandchildren she helps feed and says food and money are always scarce.
She grew up on a farm in Dayton and has loved gardens and fresh produce since she was a child. Dolores enjoyed the people she met while gleaning and also felt good about harvesting and giving back to the food bank, which had been such a help to her.
Become a Gleaner- information meeting
Thursday, May 19, 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 323 Catherine St., Campbell Hall, Walla Walla.
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