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Produce Good hopes to grow Community Orchard to help those in need

Rancho Santa Fe's Jim Putnam has partnered with Produce Good, donating 2,535 pounds of oranges this year.
Rancho Santa Fe’s Jim Putnam has partnered with Produce Good, donating 2,535 pounds of oranges this year.
(Courtesy)

Rancho Santa Fe’s Jim Putnam has been spreading “the gospel of glean” since partnering with Produce Good this year.

Putnam and his wife Rochelle own a lot across the street from their home with a thriving orange orchard. This year they could not find anyone to pick the fruit because they were told the wholesale processing facilities were either closed or limited due to the pandemic.

“There’s 85 trees out here loaded with unbelievably sweet oranges and I was out here just picking up dropped oranges off the ground and throwing them away in the dumpster and I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” Putnam said.

Putnam saw commercials for Feeding America and thought food banks could use the fruit but when contacting them, he found out that they didn’t take produce. They connected him with Produce Good and couldn’t be any happier to make the connection.

Produce Good has harvested thousands of pounds of citrus from Rancho Santa Fe residents since 2016. They work with over 30 local feeding agencies to get the fruit distributed to the 1 in 5 food-insecure individuals living in San Diego, who need it now more than ever.

Produce Good’s fruit forward mission: “By sourcing and harvesting the excess bounty in the county and creating access for those in need, we are solving the problem of hunger and waste in one sweet step.”

This year Putnam’s has already donated 2,535 pounds of oranges to local organizations Urban Street Angels which serves homeless youth, Community Resource Center, food-insecure families at Paul Ecke Elementary School in Encinitas, El Cajon Boulevard’s Business Improvement Association and the St John’s Church food pantry in Encinitas. Produce Good’s Community Orchard program is scheduled for another gleaning event at the Putnam Property in mid-October, this one will benefit Community Interfaith.

Produce Good’s roots go back to 2009, when Nita Kurmins Gilson launched a program called CropShop with her friends, picking excess citrus from neighborhood trees for the North County Food Bank. Her distribution model was later expanded through a partnership with Feeding San Diego. In 2014, she teamed up with Jerilyn White and Alexandra White to found ProduceGood, continuing with CropSwap and expanding into new produce recovery programs that reduce waste and hunger.

A recent Produce Good orange pick at the Putnam property in Rancho Santa Fe.
(Courtesy)

Kait Cole coordinates food rescue events of citrus and avocados every week with volunteers, growers, farmers and community partners for the Community Orchard program. The goal is to maintain a fresh-only food supply so it’s key that growers are local as possible and close to their partners so the fruit can be distributed as soon as it is picked. Currently, there are 294 growers in the county including 11 in Rancho Santa Fe.

Typically gleaning events would stop in July, “This year we’ve got to keep going because we’ve got so much need. Because there is such a need, we’re really looking for more growers to join us,” Cole said. “We look forward to growing our Community Orchard and hopefully adding some more Rancho Santa Fe growers to our roster.”

Putnam said that becoming a grower was easy—he simply filled out a form online. Produce Good has health and safety precautions in place for COVID-19 and growers are covered from liability by the Good Samaritan Act. The five picks on his property so far have taken about a couple of hours with volunteer pickers and although it is not required, the Putnams decided to join in and help pick.

Putnam said not only does he get a great workout and a “delightful” experience knowing that the fruit is going to people who really need it but the donation is also tax-deductible, “It’s the greatest of all worlds.”

In his short time with Produce Good, Putnam has become one of Cole’s favorite growers, “He’s a star, honestly,” she said of his enthusiasm and support.

“He is a wonderful guy and has become such an ardent spokesman for our mission,” said Kurmins Gilson, who was out for a pick with Putnam on Sept. 30. “It is truly heartwarming to us when our cause resonates with people.”

As the Putnams ride their horses on the trails in Rancho Santa Fe, he sees many groves where he knows if the fruit is left on the trees, it will spoil and fall to the ground and go to waste. He hopes that he can encourage more of his neighbors to get involved with such a good cause.

“This is really a time for neighbors to step up and help other neighbors,” Putnam said.

To learn more, visit producegood.org.


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