RANCHO SANTE FE — State Sen. Catherine Blakespear and around 40 volunteers with nonprofit food recovery organization ProduceGood took to a private Rancho Sante Fe orchard on July 8 to help harvest hundreds of pounds of Valencia oranges to donate to Feeding San Diego.
The citrus plantation, owned by Sarah and Jim Sleeper, is no stranger to ProduceGood.
“We own this property, and it’s around two and a half acres,” Sarah said. “There are about 150 trees that came with the property, and we’ve done this about 10 times with ProduceGood. They’ve come with volunteers and picked the fruit, and the food can get to those who need it better than sitting on the ground.”
At an HOA meeting, the couple met Nita Kurmins Gilson, ProduceGood’s co-executive director of programs and outreach,
“There was too much food and a great need in the community, and Nita came to an HOA meeting, and we heard her speak,” Jim said. “We were convinced right away, and ever since then, she’s been coming here with various groups and taking the oranges for Feeding San Diego.”
When the Sleepers donate their produce to the group, volunteers practice the tradition of gleaning, an ancient food recovery practice. Now, gleaning is collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or in areas where the harvest is not economically profitable.
Feeding San Diego, a hunger relief and food rescue organization, has saved hundreds of pounds of food from numerous events.
“We are passionate about food rescue, and 70% of the food we distributed last year was rescued food,” said Patty O’Connor, chief supply chain officer at Feeding San Diego. “These oranges will go across San Diego to seniors, the Veterans Village, the San Diego Rescue Mission, and school sites across the county.”
Previously, companies like SDG&E and other volunteer groups have been able to come and glean Valencia oranges in the orchard. This time, Blakespear saw this event happening and wanted to get involved.
“When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is magic,’” Blakespear said. “I was totally thrilled to meet Nita and that ProduceGood has expanded into being this essential community asset.”
Blakespear grew up surrounded by produce trees and has always loved picking fruit. With multiple trees of her own, this was her first time gleaning along with her son, Oliver.
“We have many fruit trees on our property where I grew up and where my mom grew up, and where my grandma moved here a hundred years ago when she was a child,” Blakespear said. “I’ve always loved picking fruit, and I feel like it connects us to nature, the ground, and our food source.”