Sharing the 'California dream'

Feb 15, 2011

We live in an orchard. It’s pretty much like the California dream that Sunkist and the railroads promised to people back East and to dust bowl refugees many years ago – an orange tree in your own backyard! For many of us in the Sacramento region, the dream came true.

Right now the citrus is ripe. Once you start looking, you see it everywhere – bright navel oranges, juicy grapefruit hanging in clusters, glistening lemons and sweet tangerines – some behind fences and some right out front by the street.

Often the trees are big and old, planted long ago. Much of this urban and suburban fruit doesn’t get harvested; people are too busy, the trees get too tall, or there’s just too much fruit to handle at one time. Meanwhile thousands of people in our own community don’t have fruit, fruit trees, backyards or even homes.

Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture Project is helping Sacramento people share the California dream with their neighbors through the Harvest Sacramento project. Last Saturday I joined a crew of volunteers to pick citrus in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood for donation to the Sacramento Food Bank. I had a great time doing it and met some wonderful folks. The food bank distributes the fruit at mobile food pantries over the next week.

My friend and I arrived at McClatchy Park at 9 a.m. along with a couple of dozen other volunteers. We divided into four or five teams, loaded our vans and pickups with ladders, buckets, picking poles and boxes provided by Soil Born and headed off to the first of three houses whose residents had agreed to let us pick their fruit. Our team included a mom with two enthusiastic children, three young members of Sacramento’s new Green Corps in matching tee shirts, the two of us, and Shannon, our team leader.

Shannon made contact with the resident at the first house, gave us safety instructions, and we got started. We set up ladders and picked by hand and with extendable picking poles with little baskets on the end to grab the fruit. This house had a small orange tree and a large lemon tree in the side yard. We quickly picked a box of oranges, stripping the tree and delivering a few to the front door for the owner to enjoy, then spent about a half hour picking three boxes of lemons from the upper half of the lemon tree, leaving the lower fruit for the homeowners to pick. Then we were off to the next house on our list.

The second house had an awesome huge orange tree and a smaller lemon tree in the backyard, which kept us all busy and yielded another four boxes of fruit. Just a few houses down the street, at our last stop, was the biggest grapefruit tree I had ever seen. We extended the picking poles all the way, set up all our ladders, picked four boxes of grapefruit and left what we couldn’t reach. We took all the fruit back to the park, filling big bins that the food bank picked up, and said goodbye to our new friends. Of course we got to take a few tasty samples of the fruit home with us to enjoy.

Soil Born Farms’ Harvest Sacramento Project will be harvesting fruit in the South Land Park neighborhood on Feb. 19 and in the Curtis Park neighborhood on Feb. 26. Volunteers and donations of fruit that needs harvesting are both welcome. For more information:

By Penny Leff
Author - Agritourism Coordinator/Public Education Specialist

Attached Images:

Harvesting team. Young picker.