Northwest Harvest gleaning volunteers show plums that they picked for a western Washington food bank.

Northwest Harvest gleaning volunteers show plums that they picked for a western Washington food bank.

Northwest Harvest

Jami Willard hates to see good fruit that could feed hungry mouths go to waste, especially fruit on trees that’s unwanted because of size, quality, or market conditions. But she knows that the growers, who are losing money when they walk away from an orchard, can’t afford to further invest in a crop by picking if it’s not going to market.

That’s where her gleaning volunteers fit in. Willard, who is with Northwest Harvest in Yakima, Washington, is coordinator of a volunteer gleaning service that will be trained and ready at a moment’s notice to pick fruit—cherries, soft fruit, apples, pears, and such.

“I’ll take any edible product, anywhere in my region, and I will come out and pick with my volunteers from the trees or pick up fruit from the packing house,” she said. “I’ll make it work, even on short notice. I’m aware of the need for a quick turnaround time when it comes to fruit.”

Northwest Harvest, with headquarters in Seattle, Washington, is a statewide hunger relief network that provides food to more than 300 food banks and meal programs. The nonprofit organization has four regional distribution centers in the counties of Grays Harbor, King, Spokane, and Yakima. It was the state’s first food bank distribution center to focus on fresh produce, and, according to its Web site, 93 percent of its budget goes to food distribution.

For now, Willard’s reach with her volunteers goes as far north as Ellensburg and south to Grandview.

This is the first year that Northwest Harvest is organizing a gleaning crew, she said, adding that her work is funded through AmeriCorp and AmeriCorpVista, which are ­federally funded national service organizations. Her role is to create the infrastructure needed at Northwest Harvest to have a volunteer crew trained and ready during the fruit and vegetable season for gleaning.

She is familiar with crop insurance programs and explained that insured growers who might have an unmarketable crop, because of hail or extreme weather, and are interested in donating the fruit to Northwest Harvest should talk to their insurance agent at the beginning of the process.

“It’s simple paperwork, and we can work with the agent,” she said. “Growers just need to notify the agent and tell him or her that they want the crop gleaned.”

She sees the gleaners as a win-win for the community—they can help the farmer get the crop out of the field while putting fresh, nutritious fruit on the tables of those in need. Last year, one in seven households in Washington struggled to provide food for their ­family, according to Northwest Harvest statistics.

Her goal is to make the process as easy as possible for the farmer. “All they have to do is call me, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Fruit donations are tax deductible.

Jami Willard can be reached at (509) 823-9391, or e-mail