Yes, I do have a mango tree. I do share the fruit with anyone who wants it, especially anyone who will climb up and pick the highest mangoes. I even share with the squirrels, not that I have any choice. But, really, there are more mangoes than our family and our neighbors and the squirrels can eat.
And, truthfully, some go to waste. How awful! That’s just one tree. According to research, an estimated half of all produce grown in this country goes to waste. And yet, one in six people (locally and nationally) are ‘food insecure,’ meaning they don’t know from where their next meal will come!
Gleaning – that’s the answer! Ever heard of it? Maybe you remember it from old Bible stories – that’s, um, 2000-plus years ago? Gleaning means to collect the leftovers and share with those in need. Well, gleaning is here in the Old Northeast. Resident Tracey Locke is the impetus behind a group of “gleaners in the ’Burg” and the Free Clinic Food Bank is the winner.
Tracey recalls that she and her kids picked some starfruit from a neighbor’s tree (with permission) last year and shared with everyone they knew. But, they still had leftovers so they took the fruit to the dog park to share. “Except,” Tracey explained, “instead of just taking the fruit, people started saying; ‘I have an orange tree, do you want some? I have a grapefruit tree, do you want some?’ There is so much fruit in our neighborhood alone – the idea was born!” There are other communities gleaning, but this one is a local and consistent commitment according to Tracey.
From that point until today, in only one year, almost 1,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables have been collected! That includes everything from 50 pounds of garden tomatoes to avocados, mangoes, lemons, starfruit, and grapefruit. The next scheduled gleaning is Saturday, August 2 from 9 to 11am. Volunteers are meeting at Seminole Park in Historic Kenwood, located between Burlington and 3rd Avenues North and 29th and 30th Streets North.
This is not just about cleaning up fruit trees, or keeping rats away, or sharing fruit and vegetables. This is about “raising awareness that there is a real need in the community for fresh produce,” Tracey clarified, adding; “If we can provide a volunteer service to collect the fruit and vegetables, it’s a win-win for the Food Bank and the property owner. If you have a tree or garden producing more than you can use, please consider the St. Petersburg Free Clinic Bank.”
There are monthly scheduled gleanings, and both volunteers and tree owners can sign up online by visiting the www.saintpeteabundance.org. The group meets at different city parks on the first Saturday of every month from 9 to 11am. Volunteers are sent out to homes who have signed up to share their trees and gardens. If there are more volunteers than homes, they canvas the neighborhood looking for new trees and gardens.
Weather conditions can affect fruiting and varieties of trees ripen at different times, so if the scheduled gleaning is not timed perfectly, homeowners should know that the Free Clinic Food Bank will accept donations from 7am to 3:30pm Monday through Friday. They are located at 863 3rd Avenue North, and their phone number is 727-821-6574. Drop-off is in the alley.
Note to gleaners: My mangoes are the best in the area (according to an Indian friend who likens them to mangoes back home) and if you glean my mangoes you can keep some for yourself – that is if you can resist eating the juicy, sweet fruit as you pick!