Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gleaners comb abandoned UCD broccoli field

Anna-Ruth Crittenden, 19, picks broccoli with fellow student Kase Wheatley. Crittenden led a group of more than 50 people in harvesting an abandoned two-acre broccoli field on the UC Davis campus.

January 27, 2011 |

Having outlived their use as a classroom tool, thousands of broccoli heads idled in UC Davis test field, doomed to rot. Then Anna-Ruth Crittenden intervened.

Fresh produce rotting by the ton unsettled the second-year undergraduate. Why not pick it and cook it at home? Or take it to the local food bank?

“People talk about there being a food shortage,” Crittenden, 19, said. “All this food is just sitting here. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be something in place to get this food to people who can really use it.”

So she had a friend post an ad on Davis Freecycle, a local website that, in the spirit of Craigslist, allows owners to advertise free giveaways. Usually it’s a well-worn TV or a shabby desk. This time it was a field full of broccoli. Crittenden also blasted people she knew with emails.

Since then, an estimated 55 people trekked to the field, which served as a hands-on classroom for agriculture students last year. Some gleaners sliced off a few heads to use at home. Others, like Crittenden, 19,  made numerous trips over multiple days, lopping off hundreds of pounds and schlepping it to the a local service organization.

She wasn’t alone. Fellow student Kase Wheatley helped, along with others. The group donated about 350 pounds of broccoli to the Yolo County Foodbank, Martinez said. The bulk of the donation went to the foodbank’s Mobile Market program, which distributes produce in 19 sites in the county. including four in Davis.

“It’s going to people who are needing it and using it,” said Jose Martinez, executive director.

Other nonprofits enjoyed the bounty as well, including The Episcopal Church of St. Martin and Davis Community Meals’ rotating winter shelter.

Others came to pad their personal stash. Ed Hubbard saw the Freecycle ad. His wife wanted cream of broccoli soup and he works near the field at the Center for Comparative Medicine, he said while combing the rows.

“There’s lots of really good heads of broccoli,” he added, “enough in here to feed all of Davis.”

And if people didn’t come out to cut and pick it, the broccoli “would just rot,” something that “seems like it would be a crime.”

The 2-acre field symbolizes the country’s inadequate food distribution systems, said Robyn Waxman, co-founder of Future Action Reclamation Mob, or FARM. People starve in the United States not because there’s not enough food, but because there’s no way to get the food from the field to, let’s say, a table in the heart of South Sacramento.

More than 49 million United States residents lived in “food insecure households” in 2008, a 37 percent increase from the year before, according to Food Research and Action Center using data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Young people, like Crittenden and Wheatley, are part of the solution, Waxman said. This week’s harvests are “indicative of the next generation of young people who embrace the idea of helping other people with the expectation of nothing in return.”

Crittenden plans to harvest again at 4 p.m. Friday. Get the location and other information from Crittenden by emailing her at arcrittenden@ucdavis.edu.

“Just bring a bag, a box, maybe some water,” she said, doling out advice to would-be pickers.



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