My last post was hard to write because it was about a very disturbing subject. What better antidote than to tell you about something really positive?
Are you sick of hearing me say, “We’re in Arizona?” (Will it make you feel any better if I tell you the temperature was 27 F a few mornings ago (-2 C)?) One of the things the Phoenix valley is famous for is its citrus orchards. There are far fewer now than there once were, as many have been ripped out to make room for housing developments, but some of the developments saved as many trees as possible and built the houses among them.
Such is the case in a lovely development in Mesa where I was recently fortunate enough to join a bunch of volunteers who were picking citrus for the United Food Bank, which acquires, stores and distributes food through partner social service agencies. Many of the houses in this development have ten or more fruit trees in their yards. I guess there’s only so much grapefruit a family can eat. And yes – it’s mostly grapefruit. Why? Grapefruit is faster-growing and more productive than the other citruses, so more grapefruit trees were planted than orange or lemon (or tangerine, or tangelo, or…)
Here’s how it works. The United Food Bank coordinator has teams of people who gather at a staging area and then carpool to wherever we’re picking. Our team leader is the indefatigable Terry Parsons, who happens to be a neighbor.
On this particular day we began picking at the home of Lori Wegner (seen below with a couple of hardy pickers). That was a good thing, because she puts out great goodies. It turns out that most of the homeowners put out great goodies; at a subsequent house we were invited to take whatever we wanted from an outdoor fridge, which included soft drinks, water and beer.
Picking is not especially easy work. In fact I can’t imagine doing it all day long; I’m pooped after two and a half or three hours. There are three basic jobs in the picking operation. The first is just to hand-pick whatever is easily accessible, and that is what I try to do because it is the least back-breaking approach. But one must be sly and quick to be successful, because others also want to do this work, and most of the fruit is not low-hanging.
The higher-up fruit is reached with long poles with a curved prong at the end. You put the prong around the stem of the fruit and drag or jerk down; then you duck because the fruit may well land on your head. In any event it will eventually land on the ground where the third kind of work is required: stooping down to pick the fruit up and put it in pails. The pails fill up pretty fast, and they are heavy.
Someone who is not me (my aching back!) then carries the pails and dumps the fruit into huge cardboard bins that other volunteers have assembled on palettes.
Terry told me that there is an even larger food bank in the area that sends semi-trucks of citrus up to Oregon where they have no citrus, and comes back full of surplus Oregon apples. How clever that is! (It got me thinking about all the untended olive trees in Liguria – could volunteers pick the olives for oil which could be sold to benefit the food banks? Or the oil given to hospitals or to the food banks themselves?)
So – who wins the citrus lottery? First the homeowner. She has more fruit than she knows what to do with and has to pay someone to come and remove it from her trees if the volunteers don’t do it. She also will get a small tax write-off for the value of the fruit, if she wants one. The second winner is the Food Bank and by extension the hungry people whom it feeds. (I wonder if some of them say, “Oh no, not more grapefruit!”) The third, and biggest, winners are the volunteers. They get to be outdoors in the lovely weather with a group of jolly others, to see parts of town and lovely homes they otherwise might not see, to eat delicious snacks, and they get to feel really good about doing something helpful for others. And no one at all loses.