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Community benefits from Skookum Gleaners fruit harvest

Gleaners pick and distribute ripening fruit to social agencies
GLEANING SEASON: Jack Saunders [left] and Simon Nattrass, volunteer members of Skookum Gleaners, pick the last of the apples to be shared between them, the owner of the tree and community social-agency groups. Dave Brindle photo

Only blackberries grow more abundantly around Powell River than apples. Apples, plums and pears are everywhere, ripening on backyard trees and in old orchards; so much fruit and so little time to pick.

“It’s a pretty good year for fruit trees,” said Skookum Gleaners volunteer manager David Parkinson. “A lot of people have more fruit than they can deal with.”

Skookum Gleaners is part of Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative, an organization started in 2009 to promote more self-reliance through people growing food for their own needs and for family, friends, neighbours and the community.

According to Parkinson, last year was not the best year for fruit in general; his volunteers were only out to 17 picks, but this year is different.

“Already we’re up to 30 or 31,” he said.

Gleaners pick fruit and nuts off trees on private land, split a share of the harvest with the tree owners and, according to Parkinson, “pretty much always there is some share of it that goes to the community, to people who can use it.”

That is where the Skookum project bears the most fruit: for the community. Fruit, nuts, and vegetables are given to community organizations that provide services to help alleviate poverty and hunger in Powell River.

Parkinson said no matter how much food is delivered to social agencies in Powell River, they will take it.

Partners that distribute the fresh food include Salvation Army, Inclusion Powell River, Family Place, Community Resource Centre (CRC), Powell River Child, Youth and Family Services Society and Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Salvation Army has a food lineup open to anyone twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays. “It gives us the opportunity to provide a healthier option to people who may not be able to afford that,” said Salvation Army captain Krista Loder.

Powell River Action Centre Food Bank, the largest distributor of food in the region, has recently gone through organizational restructuring. It hopes to be able to include a program to make fresh, local food available, something not currently possible.

After seeing so much fruit going to waste, Jack Saunders became a volunteer gleaner this year.

“I thought getting this fruit and being able to give it to the CRC, Salvation Army and other organizations was really kind of spectacular,” said Saunders, who added that he does it “because it’s a good thing.”

Another benefit of the gleaner program is to keep bears away from residential fruit trees, said Saunders.

According to Parkinson, Skookum Gleaners could harvest and distribute more strategically, but it is a matter of capacity. There is more than enough fruit, but a limited number of pickers and community organizations can only take so much, he said.

According to Powell River Food Security Project coordinator Vanessa Sparrow, Skookum is doing as much as possible to overcome limits and barriers to how food is distributed to social agencies.

“What Skookum Gleaners is doing is fantastic, just in terms of people’s backyard fruit and nut trees,” said Sparrow. “The system they have in getting trees picked and the bounty distributed is one element of getting more of the food grown here on the plates of more people.”

Parkinson said he has 60 pickers on his volunteer list, but half of those or less have been involved with any of the harvests so far.

“We have a few real hardcore folks who go out picking because they like it and have time on their hands,” he said. “They probably take a bit of fruit, but they’re in it for donating the fruit to the food banks.”

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