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When is a Gardener Not a Gardener?

January 23, 2020
hand picking grapefruit from a tree
photo of Gary Oppenheimer in a garden Gary Oppenheimer

When an “accidental gardener” grows food they never planted.

Grapefruit tree in Houston, TX. Photo from Ellen H.

Visit any online real estate site and you are asked to choose location, price range and the number of bed rooms desired. You can also select options such as a pool, washer/dryer, two car garage, etc. However you are never asked if you want already existing gardens or fruit trees. Even listings that highlight shade trees overlooking a patio don’t identify the trees, yet with 14 million (increasing 3% annually) homes having fruit trees, the odds are fairly good that the new homeowner may get a surprise crop the next summer.

When we bought our home on a large heavily wooded property years back, I learned that we were now non-gardening gardeners when I stepped on apples that had fallen on the ground. I was not yet a Master Gardener (or a gardener of any sort) but I was now suddenly growing food. This happens to millions of people every year.

The day I was named CNN Hero in 2010, I read an email on live TV from someone who had thrown away eight 55 gallon drums of fruit the prior year from trees he had never planted. He assured me that, going forward, he would donate the food instead.

Extra grapefruit saved and donated to a food pantry in Houston, TX. Photo from Ellen H.

Even today, we continue to get calls and emails from people whose newly purchased homes came with grapefruit, lemon, orange, apple, apricot, or cherry trees. In the past, they would eat and share some of the food, but most of it was thrown away when they felt overwhelmed. This was not only a missed opportunity to help hungry families, it actually exacerbated climate change (learn more about the link from Project Drawdown).

While our outreach to America’s gardeners targets those who actually garden, the reality is that millions of other people never gardened, yet have garden produce that they can donate to a local food pantry.

If you are one of those people or know someone who is, let them know about The “unwanted” food that used to rain down can instead help neighbors in need. And if you are facing thousands of pounds of “surprise food” (we got a call this week from an Arizona family with 10,000 pounds of grapefruit from their trees!), you might want to research local gleaning groups like Society of St. Andrew that can help you collect and donate the food.

Check if your parents or grandparents have “accidental” food and let them know about their opportunity to donate it. They’ll be proud of you.

The apple never falls far from the tree.

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