I thought that I could rise above Davis’s famous springtime allergies, but last weekend I was brought back down to earth by itchy eyes, a runny nose, and my personal record for number of sneezes in a five minute period. Granted, I did spend Saturday morning with my head stuck in citrus trees all over West Davis, so I don’t have much room to complain. Despite the terrible allergy symptoms, I had a really great time saying yes to volunteering as a fruit picker for the Davis branch of Village Harvest.
Village Harvest is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area that harvests extra fruit from backyard trees and small orchards to donate to local food agencies. Started in 2001, the program has so far donated over 1 million pounds of fresh fruit to organizations such as the Salvation Army, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee (STEAC) in Davis. In addition to organizing teams of volunteers to harvest the fruit, Village Harvest provides homeowner education on how to care for and harvest backyard trees, classes on how to make jam and preserves, and assistance to small orchard owners in caring for their trees and making their orchards sustainable.
I found out about the organization while perusing the Davis Wiki for activities to say yes to, and besides being a great organization that directly helps the community, it sounded like a fun springtime activity. I met up with the volunteer group last Saturday morning in the parking lot of the University Mall, we split into groups, and drove or biked to the houses whose families had signed up to have their trees picked that day. The people running the show knew exactly what they were doing, and had the process down to an art. We had ladders, fruit pickers, gloves, buckets, and Easter jelly beans: all the tools needed for a successful harvest.
The first house that my group visited had one lemon, one orange, and one grapefruit tree. Each of these trees was loaded with fruit, so even though there were ten of us picking, it took 1.5 hours to pick everything. My favorite part was climbing up a ladder to reach the fruit near the top of the tree and finding myself completely surrounded by leaves, citrus fruit, and wonderful-smelling blossoms. This is no doubt what set off my record-setting sneezefest, but it was worth it.
We gathered 300 pounds of fruit from this house, and at the next one we gathered almost 800 pounds! The crazy thing was, it was from one grapefruit tree, and it was the third time that Village Harvest had harvested the tree this year! The air was thick with warning yells as fruit fell from the branches to the ground, and more than one person was hit on the head or the back by a1 lb. grapefruit falling from above, but overall, we had a great time.
When I got home, my eyes were so swollen and itchy that I put a cold washcloth on them, took some allergy medicine, and took a nap. I woke myself up half an hour later with a sneezing fit, but it was totally worth it.