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An abundance of oranges: Local nonprofit tackles hunger and food waste

Volunteers at the July 25 harvesting event in Rancho Santa Fe.
Volunteers at the July 25 harvesting event in Rancho Santa Fe.
(Courtesy)

Oranges dot the fields in Rancho Santa Fe and lemons literally roll down the road. It’s fruit that has fallen from trees before it can be harvested. This abundance of unused citrus in the community is an unfortunate irony within San Diego County, where one in three people are food insecure and 40% of all food goes into a landfill.

Morgan Justice-Black
(Right) Morgan Justice-Black, SDG&E community relations manager and ProduceGood board member, and a friend at the July 25 event.
(Courtesy)

“Anyone who has driven through Rancho Santa Fe can attest to the superabundance of citrus on the trees, and, sadly, on the ground,” said Nita Kurmins Gilson, executive director of ProduceGood, a local nonprofit aimed at tackling hunger and food waste. ProduceGood offers residential citrus growers and others a streamlined way to harvest fruit that might otherwise be wasted and ensure that it gets to those who need it.

On Sunday, July 25, ProduceGood, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Feeding San Diego teamed up at a private home in Rancho Santa Fe. In just a few hours, some 30 volunteers harvested almost a ton of oranges that will supply 6,000 servings of nutrient-rich citrus to San Diego’s hungry.

Nita Kurmins Gilson, executive director of ProduceGood
Nita Kurmins Gilson, executive director of ProduceGood
(Courtesy)

From 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. volunteers took picking poles, clippers and canvas bags up and down an acre and a half filled with Valencia orange trees. By the time the group left the property at 11 a.m., there were two giant produce containers filled to the brim with the delicious bounty. On Monday, July 26, a Feeding San Diego truck picked up the fruit and took it to its Sorrento Valley distribution center, one step closer the kids, seniors and adults who need it.

“ProduceGood’s mission is to reduce hunger and waste while building community. This event accomplishes all three,” Gilson said. Her broad smile and orange logo hat evidenced her pride in the nonprofit that she, Alexandra White and Jerilyn White founded in 2014. Since then, ProduceGood, along with its 450 growers and 50 feeding partners, have saved almost 250,000 pounds of food from the trash.

Nicholas Moran
Nicholas Moran
(Courtesy)

Even faced with pandemic restrictions, ProduceGood and its partners kept up their efforts. During the past year, SDG&E volunteers harvested over 14,000 pounds of fruit, mainly in small scale picks. The July 25 event was the first large-scale event in more than a year.

“These events gave employees hope and a way to volunteer when a lot of folks were cooped up at home,” said Morgan Justice-Black, SDG&E community relations manager and ProduceGood board member. She was on site with the rest of the group and served as shuttle driver as well as orange picker and cheerleader for other volunteers.

About 30 volunteers
About 30 volunteers harvested almost a ton of oranges July 25 that will supply 6,000 servings of nutrient-rich citrus to San Diego’s hungry.
(Courtesy)

Thankfully, cloud cover created cool temperatures and there were smiles all around for the orange harvest. “It’s good to network and help the community,” said Janet Hackler, an SDG&E IT project manager who was out to pick fruit for the first time.

For information on how to volunteer with ProduceGood, or to invite them to harvest your fruit, go to producegood.org.


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