Volunteers pitched in, picked up trimming shears, put on gloves and got to work snipping persimmons from trees on a recent Saturday morning in a rural orchard in unincorporated South County. The cold weather and muddy conditions didn’t stop them from digging and gathering fruit that would go to a good cause.
Village Harvest, a local nonprofit serving the Bay Area, helped alleviate hunger on a chilly Saturday when participants plucked persimmons at an orchard in San Martin owned by Bruce and Kim Hachtmann. The couple used to pick and donate the fruit themselves, but the task was a lot of work – so when Village Harvest volunteered to help out, the Hachtmanns gladly accepted.
Harvest Village donated the fruit – enough for 650 local families to enjoy – to a local social services agency called St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy.
Christel Casjens, a volunteer with Village Harvest, discussed how successful the harvests have been at this specific location in San Martin.
“Many years ago we did a full day harvest here and got about 7,000 pounds,” she recalled. “It was pretty significant. (The Hachtmanns) are incredible donors and you really get to see what’s going on with agriculture in the area.”
The goal of Harvest Village is to gather enough produce to make a significant impact on less fortunate folks who don’t always have direct access to fresh fruit and vegetables. The goal is to keep it local, promote sustainability and get people involved in the community.
“Its really about community spirit – and people love coming out,” said Susan Osofsky, harvest coordinator with Village Harvest. “We got a lot of calls this week with people wanting to help.”
The organization was started in 2001 after a volunteer named Joni Diserens organized a harvest in Palo Alto. The event turned out to be a huge success and eventually blossomed into a full-fledged nonprofit organization.
Today, Village Harvest is largely volunteer-driven with only two full-time and several part-time employees.
Most recently, approximately 40 volunteers showed up to harvest the persimmons. The volunteers varied in age from children to adults; all of whom were enthusiastic about lending their time to a good cause.
Dr. Jim Chou, a pediatrician in San Jose, emphasized how important of a resource Harvest Village is for the surrounding communities. Chou has been volunteering with the organization for the last eight years and stressed the importance of children eating healthy at a young age.
“You want children to develop good habits early on, and if they taste these good fruits, they will want to eat this instead of a chocolate chip cookie or soda,” he reasoned. “There is an epidemic of obesity in America that needs to change.”
There are numerous reasons that people come out to volunteer. Some participants were fulfilling school requirements; others had been volunteering for years and said it was something they look forward too.
Many underlined the common theme of gaining a sense of community camaraderie while donating their time to a worthy cause.
San Jose resident Kyra Denison was volunteering as part of school requirement, but was excited to be there and help out.
“It’s really fun. Anyone could totally do it and it’s a really easy way to get community service and it’s for a good cause,” she said.
Other volunteers said they felt a strong sense of community by aiding the less fortunate.
John McShane and his daughter Molly of Los Altos mentioned how good it felt to give back.
“This organization does a lot to help people in need,” John continued. “It’s very therapeutic for the volunteers, too, because you get a sense of community when you do this and you know you’re helping people. You can just see the buckets of food that are going to go to people.”
Another major focus that Village Harvest emphasizes is education, such as spreading awareness of where one’s food comes from and the importance of using local resources. The nonprofit even provides training sessions on how to create jams and other preserved goods, in addition to providing resources on caring for and harvesting from fruit trees.
Volunteer Sonali Desai of Campbell said she gleaned great experience by working with Village Harvest.
Desai appreciates the opportunity because it’s about taking time to serve others. Not only that, “It’s also about teaching us how to be good to our land,” she said.
May-Ling Gonzales – a volunteer from Menlo Park participating in her sixth harvest – drove home that point.
“I think Village Harvest makes good sense,” she said. “Instead of letting surplus harvest fall to the ground and going to waste, you’re turning over that fresh produce to food banks – which is great.”
Village Harvest holds harvesting events two to four times a week and is always looking for extra help. Visit www.villageharvest.org for more details on volunteering.