By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
A recently planted orchard in Poway means that in a year or so more fruit can be donated to local families in need.
The Backyard Produce Project, founded in 2009 by the Palomar Health Community Action Council, has netted around 41 tons — 82,860 pounds — of fruits and vegetables within its four years of existence, said Jane Radatz, project chairwoman. Last month alone resulted in 4,380 pounds — 820 pounds brought to donation sites, 3,350 pounds collected by the tree-picking team and 210 pounds grown in the project’s garden.
Radatz said monthly produce collection is between 500 and 5,000 pounds, depending on the time of year.
“During citrus season, the picking team soars,” she said. “During the summer, the garden is the star.”
Much of the produce is donated by locals at volunteer-run collection drives. Rather than letting the produce spoil, residents donate their homegrown excess crops so families assisted by Friends & Family Community Connection may receive it for free. Radatz said the recipients are referred to FFCC by school personnel, they live in low-income housing or are brought to the charitable organization’s attention in other ways.
A portion of the produce has been grown in a volunteer-tended organic garden that has been expanded three times, not including the new orchard.
The area dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables year round has gone from a 25-foot by 50-foot plot a few years back to its current configuration of 100-feet by 50-feet on land lent to the project by Sunshine Care Assisted Living in Poway. Next to the garden, 26 trees were recently planted to form a 70-foot by 15-foot orchard that is expected to provide fruit continuously from June to October starting in a year or so.
Selected were apple, peach, plum, nectarine, pear and apricot trees. “We chose non-citrus trees because we get plenty of citrus from the community,” Radatz said. “We chose varieties that do well in our climate and we chose many different varieties so that the trees will provide fruit (over many months).”
The garden and orchard are tended by many of the three-phase project’s 100-plus volunteers. Besides having teams work in the garden daily for an hour or two, others work off-site by picking fruit from trees at homes in the Rancho Bernardo, Poway and Rancho Penasquitos areas. This fruit is donated by the property owners who cannot harvest the fruit themselves.
While there are more than 100 volunteers among the project’s three aspects — garden, picking team and collection drive — Radatz said more are welcome. To join, contact her at 858-485-5449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the exception of holidays — when the collection is rescheduled — produce donations can be brought from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the fourth Thursday to Seven Oaks Community Center, 16789 Bernardo Oaks Drive in Rancho Bernardo and The Connection Church, 14047 Twin Peaks Road in Poway (the latter also accepts produce from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday); and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Monday to Rancho Family YMCA, 9410 Fairgrove Lane in Rancho Penasquitos.
For more information, go to www.backyard-produce-project.wikispaces.com.