What do you do when you have 350 lbs. of basil? Come to the Windsor Garden Club meeting Aug. 15 and find out.
It’s not a theoretical question; Dani Wilcox, the program director of the nonprofit Farm to Pantry, had to figure that out just the other day. The nonprofit uses volunteers to gather surplus produce from fields around Sonoma County, and delivers as much as possible to more than 22 food programs, pantries, and low-income housing complexes weekly.
But when something – like 350 lbs. of basil – has Wilcox stumped, her solution is to call the chef at the Food Bank. His solution to the basil abundance issue, of course, was pesto. Lots and lots of pesto, frozen and stored to give away to food bank families later on for meals.
Wilcox is just one of the community wellness speakers on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the Windsor Garden Club’s monthly meeting. (6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 in the Community Room at the Windsor Senior Center, 9231 Foxwood Dr.). The focus for the night is on health, with a spotlight on how to get healthy food to the entire town.
But back to that basil: what to do if you’re a backyard gardener and you’ve got way too much produce? Too many tomatoes or tons of zucchini? In Windsor Wilcox suggests donating it to the Windsor Service Alliance at its office, 8987 Windsor Road. The food is distributed to our neighbors in need. If you’ve got a bumper crop, and you need help harvesting it, Farm to Pantry Gleaners is another solution.
Gleaning, for those unfamiliar, is the process of going through a field or orchard and harvesting what was missed the first time ‘round. The practice dates back to Biblical times, when it was done by the poor, widows and orphans to feed themselves. The practice of gleaning to benefit low-income people continues to this day.
“I tell people we harvest surplus produce to donate it to our neighbors in need. Those are children, seniors, and low income families,” Wilcox says.
The nonprofit organization mainly focuses on gleaning produce from ag operations. Farm to Pantry volunteers go out twice a week, for two and a half hours (volunteers don’t have to go both days) and harvest produce. “Last Tuesday we picked 1,045 pounds with six people. It was amazing,” she said. “We glean 56,000 lbs. of produce every year.”
If you’re thinking the program mainly hands out wine grapes, think again. “We don’t do vineyards at all, unless there are people with some small patches of table grapes,” Wilcox said. Local surplus produce is usually zucchini, cucumbers, basil, peaches, pears, apples, plums, persimmons, lemons, and oranges. Lots of oranges. When the group participates in Healdsburg parades, it hands out oranges instead of candy. “Orange season here is just amazing. We had 1,500 lbs. of oranges this year.”
The produce heads for the Windsor Service Alliance; Boys and Girls Clubs in Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor, and two in Santa Rosa; Alliance Medical Center; Redwood Empire Food Bank; and several rural and small-town apartment complexes where residents have a hard time getting to food bank distribution centers.
In order to keep the bounty flowing, Farm to Pantry is always looking for volunteers. You don’t have to glean walnuts or pick peaches. “We have information tables at two farmers’ markets every week. We need people to distribute the food. There’s always lots to do.”
To volunteer your time, volunteer your post-harvest produce field for gleaning, or find out how to get rid of some zucchini, contact Wilcox at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or come to the Windsor Garden Club meeting to learn more. And yes, you can bring your spare zucchini to donate. Wilcox will take them.