Despite the epic drought here, a lot of us, including yours truly, still have fruit trees in our back yards.
In fact, while my own property was crazy overgrown with bamboo when I moved in, the previous owners had also, thankfully, made other, and better, tree choices.
There’s a pair of avocado trees (although, sadly, not Haas); a produces-when-it-feels-like-it guava, and a lovely canopying fig tree that the sparrows and hummingbirds usually pick clean every summer. Five years ago, I also planted a lime tree which finally began bearing fruit last spring (perfect for guacamole and limeade), although two different lemon trees, planted in two different locations, have decided that life is better in Tree Heaven.
Then there’s my loquat (LOW-quat).
By far the tallest—at least 20 feet high—sturdiest and shadiest tree in the backyard, it wasn’t in fruit-making mode when I first arrived.
But since the leaves look nearly identical to the ones on an avocado, I assumed it was just a different variety of the two trees I already had. So when the little orange fruits appeared, I was stumped. I took a couple to our local farmer’s market for someone to identify; there, a vendor practically inhaled them before informing me they were loquats.
Like the vendor, I now know that lots of people love these fuzzy little guys.
Around the same size, color and sweetness of an apricot (but way too light for juggling), loquat aficionados eat them right off the tree. I’ve also heard that loquat jelly is to die for, and that they make an awesome marinade for pork roast, too. A quick Google search turned up many other recipes, including cobblers, chutneys and pies.
Yes, there are amazing, remarkable and yummy dishes that require loquats.
But because I do not like loquats, do not like them at all, I will now make a terrible confession: every year, I’ve let my loquats fall to the ground, and then rot.
This season, however, needed to be different.
That’s because, when I looked out from my sliding glass office door to the tree, I saw hundreds—no, make it thousands—of luscious, ripe loquats. Maybe it’s our lack of rain, or maybe it’s Mother Nature just wanting to have its way with me, but I knew that I just couldn’t let this fruit all fall down. Okay, doing so would create a big mushy mess to clean up, but I was also beginning to feel more than a bit guilty about the incredible waste.
I mentioned this dilemma to a friend of mine, who offered the perfect solution.
“Don’t you know?” she said. “There’s a group of people who will harvest your tree for free. They take it to the county food bank and distribute it.”
Such a statement seemed too good to be true, but in fact, it is true.
This sort of harvesting is called gleaning, and as it turns out, has been around since Biblical times.
Now making a comeback in the last few years (if so inclined, here’s an NPR story on the practice, at www.npr.org/2011/01/20/133059889/gleaning-a-harvest-for-the-needy-by-fighting-waste), gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested, or collecting crops from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.
Indeed, in the Old Testament, farmers are actually told to not pick their fields clean, but to leave the edges for orphans, widows and travelers, making the practice an early form of helping the poor. Today, with gleaning being more about preventing would-be waste, there are hundreds of gleaning organizations across the country.
Luckily for me, there’s Glean SLO (www.gleanslo.org), which believes that no harvest, not even from a one loquat tree, is too small to cart away. Soon, I was on the phone with a volunteer, who directed me to its web site.
“Okay, now click on ‘Donate Your Crap,’” she said.
“Uh, excuse me?”
“Donate Your Crop.”
Oh, right. After filling out the requested information, I received a call back, and five days later, two cheerful gleaners named Jeanine and Shay arrived. Carting at least half a dozen empty cardboard boxes, two very tall ladders, cutters and picking poles, they clearly knew all about this tree stripping business.
They were also told that not only was there an extremely bountiful crop in my backyard, but several other meandering branches, all weighed down with hundreds more loquats, extended into the yards of two neighbors. Thanks to these homeowners graciously allowing the gleaners access to their properties as well, it looked like Glean SLO was going to end up with a pretty good loquat haul.
Jeanine and Shay began to work quickly and efficiently, and l left to meet a friend.
That afternoon, Jeanine sent me this text: she and Shay had harvested—wait for it--95 pounds of loquats.
As it happened, the day of my one-tree harvest was also the day that our local food bank was distributing food at a nearby school, so those orange babies were grabbed just an hour or two after they were picked. For those who may not know, about one in five children in our country live in households that struggle to put food on the table every day. So, being able to provide fresh fruit on a giveaway day gave me a very, very good feeling.
Loquats might be a darn good fruit after all.
What do you do with food that would otherwise go to waste? What about other items that you just can’t use anymore? I look forward to hearing from you!