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And a Cherry Tomato on Top

The trees lining Higuera street sparkle; as jack o’ lanterns yield the (sales) floor to cornucopias and full on red and green ornamental vomit. Many of us are planning large feasts—as children coming down from their Halloween highs anticipate how Santa will deliver. I’ll admit that I think the holiday season comes on a little thick and a little quick, but I must remember the season brings joy and an opportunity to count our blessings.

While these winter months bring abundant consumption and consumerism for many, 1 in 6 people in SLO County face hunger. This holiday season, or year round, you can make a difference by volunteering for or donating to your favorite non-profit organization. When it comes to food insecurity, our local Food Bank offers solutions.

In 2016, The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County distributed 6 million pounds of food, nearly 50% of which was fresh produce. I am happy to report that I, along with my beau plus little assistant Ryder, humbly added to the 2017 cherry tomato count. Volunteering can certainly be a family friendly adventure!

A program of the Food Bank, gleanSLO connects farmers and backyard growers with volunteers to harvest fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. Since its inception in 2010, gleanSLO has collected 1,097, 242 pounds of fresh produce, as a result of more than 2,700 harvests completed by over 1,700 volunteers.  So far in 2017, gleanSLO has rescued 222,028 pounds.

Do you want in on these statistics? You can sign up to harvest with as little as a day’s notice after registering as a volunteer on gleanSLO’s website, and there are a variety of events from which to choose. Gleans range greatly in size, as you can work at a large operation like Talley Farms or opt for a cozy backyard.

We chose the cozy route; picking tomatoes while chatting with a local hobby gardener who uses her farm to reduce food waste and feed hungry families. This intimate setting worked well for a 4-year-old’s community service debut, as Ryder kept us entertained and got a week’s worth of Lycopene from the fruit that didn’t make the cut. Trained volunteers supervise harvests volunteers, which was key in my case because at first I picked non- ripe green tomatoes thinking they were heirloom varieties.

Volunteering is a great way to learn how a community ticks, particularly if you are new to town or returning after a long hiatus. It also makes for a great family activity, service day with friends or co-workers, or even an economical date option. You can sign up on gleanslo.org to experience how farmers, trained volunteers, and everyday folks can combat hunger in our community.

By Courtney Haile, Photos by Roberto Covey

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