Picking Flowers for the Food Bank?


A few weeks ago, as the promise of much needed rain was teasing the Central Coast, a ripe opportunity arose for the Glean SLO program. John Rourke and Chris Freitas of San Luis Berry Farm had gotten as much of an organic strawberry harvest as they could before the rain would hit, so they invited a couple local groups, including Glean SLO, to pick as much from the fields as possible.

Gathering under steadily graying skies, we set out to fill as many plastic clamshells as we could. Several dozen gleaners of all ages were on hand, easily spanning at least three generations.

Compared to other crops, strawberries are relatively easy to pick in that you can just pinch the ripe fruit off with your fingers instead of having to use clippers. However, the plants are loooow to the ground, meaning you have to stoop, bend over, kneel, and/or sit to get yourself in position.

It is not a job I would want to have for eight-plus hours. It is not a job I would want to have for five-plus days a week. It is not a job I would want to have to depend upon for my livelihood.

It is a job that makes me appreciate being able to go into a store and buy strawberries. These gleans have a way of making one gain that sort of perspective.

My first 15 minutes of effort. I got faster, but not a whole lot faster!
My first 15 minutes of effort. I got faster, but not a whole lot faster!

However, a couple hours of picking strawberries is certainly doable. When you then multiply those hours by all the Glean SLO volunteers who were on hand, over 900 pounds of strawberries were harvested that afternoon, and those were then distributed to over 600 families in San Luis Obispo County via the Food Bank Coalition. Truly an example of what community cooperation can accomplish, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

As the Glean SLO follow up email noted “One in six people in SLO County are ‘food insecure,’ often not knowing how they will get their next meal. Forty percent of the population (the Food Bank) feeds are children. Fruits and vegetables are typically the least accessible type of food for low-income families.”

The email went on to note that in 2013, nearly half of the food distributed at the Food Bank was fresh produce. Of that 205,000 pounds (and counting) was gleaned by the volunteers in the Glean SLO program. (Here’s another story about gleaning in the Central Valley; an effort to provide food for the very people that harvest much of the nation’s – arguably even the world’s – food.)

As fresh produce goes, strawberries are among the most nutritious foods we can eat. The WebMD website explains that their benefits include being high in fiber, low in calories, and free from fat and cholesterol. As such, they’re good for your heart, blood pressure, cholesterol. They’re also a good source of Vitamin C (eight strawberries have more than an orange) and other antioxidants, as well as potassium, iron and manganese.

Interestingly, strawberries aren’t really even berries. They’re a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), and the “berry” is actually the enlarged stem end of a flower. Who knew that we were picking flowers for the Food Bank?!

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