Dozens of volunteers are ready to scale ladders and harvest fruit to benefit local food banks again this year – but the pandemic has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into a decade-old program.
The Langley Environmental Partners Society (LEPS) Gleaning Program will be starting up again this summer and early fall, with an aim of putting to use fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
The program has required changes, said organizer Amanda Smith, the agricultural program coordinator for LEPS.
“There’s going to be less volunteers per tree,” said Smith.
Everyone will have to bring their own gloves, and must cancel if they feel ill at all.
“The picks will end up being a little bit longer,” she said.
Due to the pandemic, physical distancing means that there will only be one person per tree when harvesting backyard fruit.
But the volunteers for the program are ready to go back and harvest. However, they’re facing a bit of a shortage of donors this year.
The gleaning program is simple – those with excess fruits, or sometimes even garden vegetables, can contact LEPS, and volunteers will come out to harvest the trees.
Up to one third of the harvest goes to the homeowner, up to one third to the volunteer pickers, and everything else goes to local food banks and the Gateway of Hope homeless shelter.
This year, the owners of some previous picking sites have indicated they’ll be keeping their fruit. It seems to be a side effect of COVID-19.
Whether it’s for financial reasons, or because people are becoming more interested in home canning and pie making, there are fewer fruit trees for LEPS to harvest.
That’s why the gleaning program is reaching out and asking for more donors.
“The need is still there,” said Smith.
Anyone interested in volunteering their fruit trees for a harvest can contact Smith at 604-825-0409.
For a volunteer effort, the annual gleaning harvest produces thousands of pounds of fruit. Langley is dotted with apple, pear, and plum trees, whether planted as part of recent housing developments, or dating back decades to when family farms dominated much of the community’s landscape.
In 2019, there was an extremely challenging spring, with cold weather in January and February, Smith recalled. It seriously affected the local apple harvest.
Then rain in June caused mold and fungus to hit some local cherry trees.
But the plum crop was still excellent.
“Plums are just the hardiest fruit you can grow down here,” Smith said.
The program donated thousands of pounds of plums to the food bank.
Gleaning is just one small part of an ongoing discussion about food security that Smith said is taking place both locally and across the country.
While the border remains open to food shipments from the United States and overseas, the pandemic has disrupted many industries and has raised fresh questions about how secure our local food supply is, she said.