Pick Your Own...
but Pick for Your Neighbors, Too
Written onSeptember 01 , 2010
The road leading to Dwight Miller & Son Orchards in Dummerston is far off the beaten path. For decades, visitors have driven down the road on crisp, fall days to spend time picking Golden Delicious, Cortland, Empire, and Macoun apples from trees that date back to the late 1800s. They’ve gone to this orchard—one of Vermont’s oldest—to pick for themselves, or maybe for their families or friends. Now, Dwight Miller’s is participating in a very contemporary program that allows orchard visitors to also pick fresh, local apples for people struggling to put food on their tables.
It’s called the Pick for Your Neighbor program, inaugurated last year by the Vermont Foodbank with funding from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Each September, visitors can pick apples at one of the program’s dozen participating orchards, pay for the apples, and have them set aside for the foodbank. Foodbank workers then gather all the donated apples and take them to the regional foodbank facility nearest the orchard—Barre, Wolcott, or Brattleboro. From there they are distributed to 280 network agencies throughout Vermont, including food pantries, schools, shelters, senior programs, and meal sites.
“It’s a great program,” says Nick Cowles, owner of Shelburne Orchards in Shelburne. “We’re always trying to find ways we can help out in the community. It’s a nice way for us to be able to participate in a positive way. It’s an easy thing for us to do.”
Martha Miller, part of the eighth generation to work at her family orchard,Dwight Miller Orchards, echoes those sentiments. “It’s the reasonable thing to do. The foodbank is an important part of the state and anything we can do to support them we want to do. There isn’t a reason not to.”
While donating a bag of apples may seem like a small effort in the fight against hunger, it makes the food drive concept more personal. Rather than purchasing a can of vegetables—origin unknown—from the shelves of a mega-grocery store, participants can spend some time in local orchards and provide needy Vermonters with local bounty that may be priced out of their reach. Last year, 2,232 Vermont apples were picked and donated.
Theresa Snow, the Vermont Foodbank’s director of agriculture resources, is based in Brattleboro, where she coordinates the program from the new regional distribution center there. She feels the program “is a perfect activity to take action against hunger,” for anyone of any age. Indeed, the Pick for Your Neighbor program provides an opportunity for individuals, families, scouting programs, school community service organizations, church groups, and others to actively do something about hunger in their communities.
“It doesn’t need to be a $30 bushel,” Snow explains. “It can be a $5 bag.” It’s a selfless act that helps those who can’t visit an orchard or can’t afford to buy the local fruit, she says.
And most orchard owners really get it, Snow adds. They don’t really have to do anything and they aren’t donating the apples, but are instead getting paid for apples picked by generous visitors to their orchards.
Some orchard owners, however, do go the extra mile. Ron Hackett, in South Hero, has been running Hackett Orchards for 43 years. Last year he matched all the pickers’ donations with an equal amount of apples. “We’re a small orchard—12 acres. But our mission has been, in bumper years when we have surplus, to donate to the foodbank.”
Snow developed the program in an effort to increase the connection between the state’s food resources and local communities. Based on the food drive concept, which is very popular, she thought, “Why can’t we do the same with apples?” The program evolved through conversations between Snow and folks at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Now the Oregon Foodbank is interested in instituting a similar program.
Fresh food rescue is an appealing approach, Snow says, because “it manages our resources as well. If we acknowledge the resources right here, we will be more food secure. This is our community’s food. The more people realize that, the more secure everyone’s going to be. There should not be a reason why large volumes of food go to waste in our backyard.”
As awareness grows, more people are participating, and places like Our Place Drop-in Center in Bellows Falls are among the beneficiaries. Susan Shea, director of operations at the Our Place food pantry and meal site, says, “We’re very fortunate to live in an area where farmers are very generous. The Vermont Foodbank has done a great job of providing fresh produce everywhere.”
Shea started a nutrition program five years ago to educate people about how to cook and eat healthy foods, about “what’s in our foods, to clean up what people are eating and get rid of additives.” Much of that education comes in the form of cooking. There’s an open kitchen at Our Place and the chefs model healthy food preparation using the fresh produce that comes their way.
But that kind of education “doesn’t happen if there aren’t farms,” said Rob Meehan, executive director of the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. “The work of the foodbank is important because they are focused on farms and orchards that provide fresh, healthy food to the underprivileged,” he asserts.
Judy Stermer, director of communications and public affairs at the Vermont Foodbank, says participating in the Pick for Your Neighbor program during September, which is national Hunger Action Month, is an ideal way for people to talk about the issue of hunger and to take action. “You can enjoy Vermont’s fall while also helping fight hunger in Vermont.”
The foodbank serves 86,000 Vermonters each year, Stermer adds, and “it’s going to take all of us to move toward hunger-free communities.”
Orchards in the 2010
Pick for Your Neighbor Program
Adams Apple Orchard – Williston
Douglas Orchard – Shoreham
Mendon Mountain Orchard – Rutland
Champlain Orchard – Shoreham
Liberty Orchard – Brookfield
Hackett’s Orchard – South Hero
Hall’s Orchard – Isle La Motte
Shelburne Orchard – Shelburne
Dwight Miller & Son Orchards – Dummerston
Allenholm Farm – South Hero
Burtt’s Apple Orchard – Cabot
Cortland Hill Orchard – Brattleboro
Happy Valley Orchard – Middlebury
Green Mountain Orchard – Putney
Chapin Orchard – Essex
Scott Farm – Dummerston