A group of eager apple-pickers recently made a trip to Oregon State Hospital’s (OSH) Junction City campus.
To pick apples, of course. They were volunteers with the Eugene Area Gleaners. On this autumn day, they came to harvest apples from the nearly 300 apple trees that line the hospital’s main entrance known as Recovery Way.
“We were excited to hear about the opportunity for late apples,” said Gleaners volunteer Catherine Wilkins. “It’s been a weird year because of the temperature changes and timing of pollinators.”
The Eugene Area Gleaners is a volunteer organization that works with farmers and other food source providers to ensure food isn’t wasted. Whether it’s a farm or someone’s backyard, the group’s goal is to connect others with food resources.
“Recently I helped pick over 200 pounds of pears that otherwise would have gone to waste,” said Wilkins. “People don’t understand that there’s food right now waiting to be harvested.”
Wilkins was joined by fellow volunteer Toni Simmons. The two met for the first time picking OSH’s apples
“Everybody works together, and we split the harvest,” said Simmons, who arrived at the hospital after picking strawberries on a Pleasant Hill farm earlier that morning. “Half of what we picked we gave to the farmer. He told us if we hadn’t come he likely would have had to let the berries turn to mush because he didn’t have the help with the late harvest.”
In the case of the Pleasant Hill farm, the volunteers donated their portion of the harvest to the nonprofit food bank Food for Lane County (FFLC). It was FFLC, in fact, which organized the original funding for the planting of the dwarf Liberty apple trees on OSH’s Junction City campus in 2015.
The first OSH harvest was in 2018, and hospital staff appreciate the program.
“We’re grateful that volunteers continue to step up to ensure the fruit isn’t wasted and continues to be a benefit to the community,” said Tom Anhalt, administrator of OSH-Junction City.
The donated fruit from this year’s OSH harvest will again fill food boxes for community members.
“It is a longstanding partnership that truly makes a positive impact on the lives of our fellow community members,” said Sally Dougherty, FFLC development director. “It couldn’t be done without the collaboration of the hospital, Gleaners and FFLC.”
For the volunteers plucking the fruit off the trees, the benefits are many, especially since they keep half of what they harvest.
“My sons love to do cider pressings and we’ll make sauce with these,” said Catherine Wilkins. “It’s therapeutic to be outside and away from the daily grind. You’re also meeting new people who are like-minded, and it provides a sense of accomplishment.”