Parking meters are a more common sight in San Francisco than fruit trees, but one non-profit has been hunting for, and putting to good use, produce that springs up in the backyards of many residents. Yet even with over 6,000 pounds of food harvested since its beginnings, Lauren says there are still many more opportunities to bring Produce to the People:
SCOUT: How did Produce to the People get started?
LAUREN: Produce to the People was founded as a non-profit (fiscally sponsored by the San Francisco Parks Trust) in June 2009. It initially began as a Backyard Harvest Project, picking fruit from overly abundant fruit trees in predominantly residential gardens and giving it away through partnerships with pre-existing free food programs, like the Free Farmstand, the Julian Pantry and Martin de Porres Soup Kitchen. I’d been picking fruit in friends’ gardens and giving it away, and had taken the Garden and Compost Educator Training Course at Garden for the Environment and was volunteering at Mission High School, helping them get a food garden going with some folks from Pie Ranch. The combination of these two things made me realize that I wanted to start a youth employment program to combine the fruit gleaning and working with high school students, getting young people outside more, exercising, learning to eat healthier and support their community, both ecologically and socially.
SCOUT: How do you come across the fruit trees and gardens you source from?
LAUREN: Mostly by word of mouth. We've tried flyering, even on doorsteps where you can see a fruit tree, but it hasn't been especially successful. Finding more trees to harvest is definitely one of our more important tasks, and one of the tasks I've found we have less control over, so help spreading the word is always greatly appreciated!
SCOUT: What does the harvest process entail?
LAUREN: Either we get in touch with the owner/renter who's property the fruit tree is on, or they get in touch with us. We schedule a day and time to come harvest, then we show up, usually with an orchard ladder (which sometimes we don't need), fruit pickers (these are like little baskets on extension poles), and boxes. We pick as much fruit as the person would like to give, and they are welcome to keep fruit (either on the tree or from the fruit we pick) as long as they donate some. Usually harvests are scheduled intentionally so the fruit sits for as little time as possible, and is distributed the same or next day for soft fruits like plums.
SCOUT: Where does the fruit go after its harvested?
LAUREN: Most of the fruit is given away at the pre-existing free food programs that we partner with. These include the stand at the Free Farm on Saturdays from 12:30-1:30 where we hand out the veggies that we grow in the garden there, The Free Farmstand on Sundays from 1-3, the Julian Pantry at St. John's Church (15th and Julian in the Mission) on Satuday mornings, Martin de Porres Soup Kitchen (on Potrero and 16th), and most recently we've been able to give some fruit to SF General Hospital for a staff organized group there called HeartBeets, which is working to give out fresh food in some of the free diabetes classes they offer. We also use a small portion of the fruit to make jam, which we sell as a fundraiser, and gives us the opportunity to talk about food preservation and value-added products.
SCOUT: How can people in the community get involved/help out?
LAUREN: Come to The Free Farm any Wednesday and Saturday from 10-2 if you're interested in growing food. You can show up anytime during those workdays, and we all gather for a shared vegan lunch that one of the volunteers makes at noon. I will be posting some PTTP intern positions in January for people are looking to be more consistently involved (on a weekly to monthly basis) and want to learn more and help more with harvesting, making jam, and fundraising. Those will be up on our blog. Folks that would just like to stay in touch, hear about more sporadic volunteer opportunities, events and jam sales, and more general PTTP news, can join our email list).
SCOUT: Let’s talk a bit about this fine city. What makes SF so special to you?
LAUREN: I'm an east coast transplant, and have never lived anywhere else that didn't have a season where everything freezes over. As a gardener, I appreciate the winter as a time for rest, but I do love that in San Francisco, the rest comes as a slow down, but not a complete stop. Gardening aside, I'm also an artist, so the thriving art community and the creative ways that people go about their daily lives is what initially drew me here.
SCOUT: When you're not harvesting, what are some of your favorite spots to hang out?
LAUREN: I have a deep appreciation for community-minded, locally owned and operated businesses, so I can often be found enjoying a slice of walnut pie at Mission Pie or drinking a beer under the lemon tree at El Rio. I also love to check out shows and events at community-oriented art spaces, like Southern Exposure and CounterPULSE. And more than anything, I love a good potluck.
Photo of Lauren by Sharah Nieto