By Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
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Food prices are rising at an almost frightening pace, while fruit is ripening on local trees, lettuce lies in fields and zucchini multiplies in gardens.
And so an idea has flowered in the mind of Marissa Ortega-Welch, an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Olympic Community Action Programs.
The idea is gleaning, the gathering of fruits, vegetables and herbs left in fields after the harvest.
Ortega-Welch is looking for gleaners, as well as gardeners and farmers, in Joyce, Port Angeles and Sequim, to make OlyCAP's "Good for the Gettin'" gleaning project go.
Volunteer pickers will have a chance to take home some of the harvest for their own households, Ortega-Welch said.
The rest will be donated to the Sequim Food Bank, Port Angeles Food Bank and the Salvation Army kitchen in Port Angeles.
On Wednesday, Ortega-Welch spoke to the Clallam County Master Gardeners at their demonstration garden at 2711 Woodcock Road north of Sequim.
"I have about 15 volunteers," so far, she told the gardeners.
The program needs more; "we're hoping for a critical mass," of gleaners, farmers and gardeners before planning some harvest days.
"We'll come to your place for a couple of hours, at a time that's convenient for you," Ortega-Welch added.
Curtis Beus, a Washington State University Extension agent who works with the Master Gardeners, figures many soon will have more vegetables than they can consume — zucchini, at least, seems to always be a bit too abundant about now.
Ortega-Welch added that, all over eastern Clallam County, apple and pear trees will shortly be groaning with ripe fruit — that might not be enjoyed by anybody, were it not for gleaners.
The OlyCAP initiative aims to put fresh produce on the tables of lower-income families, and provide nutritious food to people who don't ordinarily shop at farmers' markets, Ortega-Welch said.
Gleaning can "help people who want to feed themselves and their families local food, but they have time, and not much money."
Already Nash's Organic Produce, which farms some 400 acres in the Dungeness Valley, is inviting gleaners into its fields.
"We often have produce that's not salable," because it doesn't look perfect, said Nash's outreach coordinator Kia Armstrong.
"We've talked about a program like this, but we can't afford to pay people to glean. So we're excited that Marissa has stepped up to the plate."
One needn't be on Nash's scale, of course.
"If someone has a backyard garden or a bunch of fruit trees on their property, or maybe they're at a time in their life when they can't harvest it all," OlyCAP gleaners will be glad to visit, Ortega-Welch said.
"We would harvest a portion for the garden owner if they want it," she added.
The gleaners will need tools, so Ortega-Welch hopes to hear from people who can lend or donate those to OlyCAP.
To Armstrong, Beus and Ortega-Welch, gleaning seems an obvious solution to this summer's food-price woes — but it's not a new thing.
OlyCAP ran a gleaning program in Port Angeles in the late 1980s, Ortega-Welch said.
"It was started by moms," but ended when volunteer recruitment efforts faltered.
Whatcom County and the state of Oregon continue to have active gleaning programs, she added.
To find out more about volunteering, offering a farm or garden site for gleaning or to share tools, phone Ortega-Welch at OlyCAP, 360-452-4726, Ext. 6266.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.