A lean glean
The Reno Gleaning Project encounters a local fruit shortage
Pamela Mayne, founder of the Reno Gleaning Project, spends her free time gathering unwanted fruit. Since 2009, she has led a grassroots effort to gather (or “glean”) excess fruit from trees in Reno and Sparks and redistribute it to food banks and farms, where it can be put to use. In previous years, Mayne has been overwhelmed by the bounty produced by Reno’s neighborhood fruit trees. This year, however, there hasn’t been much fruit to go around.
As many local growers have noticed, 2015 has been a poor year for tree-fruit production. “We’ve had almost no plums, peaches, apricots,” Mayne said. “Normally we would be collecting peaches and plums right now, in droves.”
In years when fruit is abundant, homeowners contact the Reno Gleaning Project when their fruit is ripe. Then, Mayne or one of her volunteers visits the tree, harvests the fruit, and cleans up the surrounding area—a service that she says is valuable to many backyard fruit growers.
“A big, productive tree is actually a burden for most people,” said Mayne. “It’s a mess. It is impossible to process all of it. A big tree will make 500 to 1,000 pounds of fruit.”
They will also take vegetables. After collecting, Mayne and Reno Gleaning Project volunteers take the produce to local food banks, where it is distributed to hungry families and individuals. Fruit that is rotten or otherwise unfit for human consumption is sent to local farms, providing a free, clean, healthy, locally sourced food for animals that prevents waste and offsets costs for small farmers. Meat from the animals is then sold to restaurants that purchase from local farmers. Pickers benefit as well—they get to keep a small portion of the harvest.
“The grower wins, the picker wins, the farmer wins, and the needy families win,” Mayne said. “It’s a win-win-win-win. That is rare. And the consumer wins, too; the consumer who can come here and eat something that was raised locally by a farmer that is being supported by the community.” But without fruit on the trees, this community-supplied, minimum-waste food chain stops short.
So, where is the fruit? According to Jon Bruyn, “Plant Doctor” and certified arborist at Moana Nursery, part of the reason for Reno’s current fruit shortage was an unseasonably warm winter. “Apricots, plums, cherries, even apples tried to bloom in February,” said Bruyn. A frost then killed a lot of the blossoms on the flowering fruit trees, decimating much of this year’s fruit crop.
Frosts and warm winters are hard to manage for, but Bruyn and Mayne say that there are a few simple things homeowners can do to help their fruit trees produce a better fruit crop. First, they recommend winter watering. Although people turn off their irrigation systems for the winter, trees still need water—and it doesn’t take much. “Plan on watering at least once (per winter),” Bruyn said. Watering monthly would be even better, says Mayne, especially if it’s a warm, dry winter.
In the fall, after tree leaves drop, Mayne recommends pruning trees into a funnel-shape (wide on top, narrow on bottom), and giving long branches a trim. Bruyn recommends that fertilizing of fruit trees be done in the spring rather than in the fall, to discourage trees from blooming early if 80-degree February days do occur.
“A slow year like this when there’s no fruit, this is a great year for education,” Mayne said. “I want people to see this as food. Because they don’t. They walk right by it, and think it’s trash. Then they go to the store and buy fruit for $5.99 per pound.”