Creating a strategic plan for donor outreach makes the growing season more bountiful for farmers and food banks alike. Winter is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of farmer downtime to introduce one’s organization or build on an existing relationship. Dedicated gardeners start planning their summer plots during February. Use January to notify the gardening community of crops the food bank has in high demand, and plan on giving more advanced notice for year-crops like garlic.
You can be more flexible when reaching out to fruit tree owners. The local Fruit Club is a great resource for identifying community members who are knowledgeable about local orchard trees, but keep in mind that members of these clubs frequently have plans for the fruit from their own trees. You may be able to utilize their knowledge to hold community events such as “Pruning for Beginners” which is a great way to recruit tree donors.
Fruit tree owners should be contacted 3-4 weeks prior to their tree ripening. Fruit trees have staggered ripening times, and Harvest for Vashon advises preparing a seasonal communication calendar. Figs ripen in early August, Plums in August and early September, and apples and pears come on in the second half of September through October. Reach out one month ahead of time to secure permission to pick and bring volunteers to the property. One to two weeks ahead, request pictures of the tree or visit the property to ascertain how ripe the fruit is. Finalize a gleaning date and time at least a week in advance to give volunteers and the property owner plenty of time before a gleaning event. Finally, prepare your volunteers with training on picking, respect, and property etiquette to foster donor trust on the good behavior of harvesting volunteers.
A frequent issue gleaning programs troubleshoot are last-minute glean opportunities. Not being able to plan ahead makes for a tough time to recruit volunteers, and for the property owner who would like to see all of their ripe fruit taken advantage of. Strong volunteer relationships pave the way for on-call volunteer opportunities.
Before going out to a property, ask the produce donor about their property- where can volunteers park? Which tree or garden bed needs to be harvested from? When gleaning from a bigger operation, like a farm, determine which type of equipment is necessary to accomplish the goal. Delicate produce like berries and cherry tomatoes do best if picked directly into punnets. Hearty apples require nothing more than a crate for transportation, but the weight of a full crate and the ability to carry the crate should be known prior to a glean.
Above all else, produce donors want to know that they made a difference. Maintain communication after the final gleaning at their property has passed, and be sure to send them a personal email or hand-written card with the poundage of their donation, and a donation receipt for taxes if requested. Harvest for Vashon encourages donors to come to volunteer appreciation events to gain a greater sense of community around their produce contribution.