Gleaning in Strange Times

24 Oct 2019, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Harvest VISTA, Gleaning, Washington state, Good Cheer Food Bank

It’s been a weird year. Strange weather and strange times challenge us to adapt our expectations, to stay flexible and find creative solutions. The early part of 2019 was dry, with about half the normal rainfall here in Washington. Overall, rainfall for 2019 is currently two inches less than normal. That doesn’t sound like much, but the dry months came in the spring when growing things needed rain the most. This affected not just farmers, but fruit trees growing on Whidbey Island, where the gleaners pick fruit from trees donated to the Food Bank and deliver it to be added to the produce section of Good Cheer’s grocery-store model food bank.

Gleaning kicked off slowly this year, and then ramped up quickly – trees which were ready at the end of July or early August last year didn’t ripen until late August, apples, and plums mostly came in early OR late or didn’t come in at all. Comparing previous years’ harvest records to this one’s, things are just a little out of sync. August was cooler than last year, which was a blessing on one hand – less wildfires and no smoke hanging in the air, but it never really felt like summer arrived and then suddenly it was raining and dark early and everyone started to wonder where the sunshine went…

Fruit trees tend to bear in cycles, heavy one year and light the next. Last year was a big apple year on Whidbey, so the expectation was that it would be a light apple year but that other tree fruits would be more abundant. That was partly right, although the late or early ripening fruit meant that the gleaning team had to be able to respond quickly and stay ready – scouting regularly, keeping in touch with tree donors, and being willing to step out of normal routines. What will the rest of the year (and future ones) bring? It’s hard to guess, and even harder to predict with any hope of accuracy. The key seems to be staying alert, and communicating with tree donors and farmers around the island. In strange times, the importance of community networks becomes even more apparent.