Produce Recovery with SoSA Florida
U-Pick Farms are a uniquely engaging opportunity. These farms tend to be the most ‘user-friendly’, as they are by design to be harvested by folks of all ages and skill levels. U-Pick produce tends to be delicate crops like peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Farmers will also have equipment and/or supplies for gleaning readily available, as it is needed. Additionally, U-Pick farms are typically far more accessible for the elderly, young, and those with limited mobility.
For the best U-Pick experience and more productive gleaners, let the volunteers know they can taste test the crops for quality control, but stress the fact that the produce is for the hungry. Additional tools and time are required for berries, as clamshells are required for distribution. U-Pick gleans that require climbing or reaching for produce such as peaches, starfruit, or pears have safety concerns over potential falls. Volunteers should be instructed on proper ladder use, and whenever possible SoSA personnel should use climbing equipment instead. Before any volunteers can come in-field, each volunteer must review and sign a liability waiver, this is essential in protecting not only the volunteers but also our farm partners. The waiver can be completed online or on the day of the glean.
Fruit Tree Harvest
Many of Florida’s most popular and lucrative produce grows on trees: avocados, mangoes, guava, starfruit, mamey sapote, pomelos, oranges, lemons, limes, lychees, and so on. Fruit tree gleaning is also an excellent chance to receive donations from residential or non-commercial growers, countless Floridians have fruit trees in their yards.
The primary safety concern with fruit tree harvests is falling. Both produce and volunteers are at a risk for a tumble, and even small heights can lead to injury. All volunteers must be briefed on ladder safety: how to set a ladder properly, how to spot for a ladder user, and safe navigation. SoSA staff are trained to demonstrate all in-field safety precautions firsthand before allowing any volunteers into contact with climbing equipment. Children are not allowed up larger pieces of climbing equipment, however, they may need to utilize step stools to reach lower branches. Only one volunteer or SoSA staff member is allowed on a ladder at any time, and if the ladder exceeds 10 feet an additional individual is required to steady it and spot for the user. Whenever possible, only SoSA representatives will use ladders, preventing volunteer injuries.
Falling fruit can also cause harm to gleaners, and may be damaged beyond use. Although it is inevitable, volunteers are instructed to attempt not to shake the tree branches roughly. The use of basket pickers also helps, allowing volunteers to safely reach and gather produce from higher branches without knocking it to the ground. Fruit pickers with shears or hedge trimmers can be used in coordination with baskets, enabling the users to clip and pick produce without dropping it.
Other – Providing labor for residential growers
Farming on a small scale requires significant labor. To balance production demands and seasonality of work, oftentimes these small farms have to hire hourly workers to fill their labor needs. Dependent on size and labor required, providing one-day volunteers to help these small growers usually public schools and mission groups enjoy doing this type of work. SoSA will carry out a residential gardening day as a typical glean, but without an agency, as no produce is being collected. The VISTA will speak with the growers to identify what tasks can be accomplished at their facility for laymen participants. Typical farm work suitable for volunteers includes: mixing and preparing soil, planting, weeding, pruning, watering, and basic landscaping. The day of the event, the farmer usually will introduce him or herself and instruct personnel and volunteers as to what is needed, and may remain on deck to supervise activities.
Selective pruning can be used to alter the size and form of a tree, to remove dead, diseased or damaged tissue, to create better access for maintenance and harvesting, and to improve airflow and light infiltration in the canopy. In Florida late summer and/or deep winter pruning are typically recommended, but pruning can be done any time of year, if necessary.
Late summer is a great time to prune because it’s easy to spot dead/diseased/damaged branches among the rest of the green, healthy growth. Branches may have broken or bowed into an unsuitable position while laden with fruit. Pruning before the tree goes dormant will be more of a “hit” to the tree’s energy reserves, and can result in more modest spring growth. This is a great way to thin out/reduce trees that are messy and overgrown.
Volunteers on gardening days won’t get the same satisfaction of checking how many pounds of food were picked, which can lower morale and cause volunteers to not return. Rather, it is important for the VISTA to show extra appreciation and talk about the farm they are helping. Many farms SoSA helps are small-scale and family owned with a limited number of staff.