Monday, August 2, 2010

Solution for Messy Fruit Trees

If I get hungry in the summer, I don't have to go further than my yard to find something tasty to eat. When my husband and I bought our house seven years ago, it came equipped with an acre lot full of mature fruit trees, grapevines and a garden plot for growing vegetables. Over the years, we've added strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and thanks to the rich soil of central Illinois we always have an abundance of fresh, nutritious food to share with family and friends.

But even our fresh food paradise has its drawbacks. Every August the branches of our pear tree become laden with fruit, and much of it rots before we can enjoy it. The pears fall to the ground in messy piles that have to be scooped up and tossed in the compost. It always makes me sad to see the fruit go to waste, but with the help of Eastern Illinois Foodbank, I think I finally found a solution.

Last year my Rotary Club (C-U Sunrise) recruited volunteers for a food repack at the foodbank, and I spent an evening sorting canned goods. That night I learned about the demand for food in our local community and how it has risen dramatically due to the poor economy. Stories about first-time pantry users really troubled me and made me aware that my family could be next.

Since that night, I have become more familiar with the foodbank and the work they do to distribute food to pantries in 14 counties in the eastern part of our state. During a recent conversation with one of their staff I learned that while the demand for food has gone up, the nutritional quality of corporate food donations has gone down. Eastern Illinios Foodbank would like to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables for their clients, but they don't receive enough donations to accomodate the need.

After that conversation I began to wonder if my messy pear tree could serve a new purpose. I asked Cheryl Precious, director of marketing and development at the foodbank, if they could distribute my pears to a local pantry. The next thing I knew, one of their staff was helping me load empty cardboard boxes into the back of my van.

The following Saturday, with the help of my three daughters, we picked our pear tree clean.

Three of us picked while one sorted, cleaned and inspected the harvest. In a couple of hours, three large cases of fruit were sitting on my kitchen table ready to go to the foodbank.
Now I know my three cases of pears won't make a dent in the overall hunger needs of my community, but it's a start. If you have messy fruit trees in your yard, I encourage you to call Eastern Illinois Foodbank to see how you can help. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for my apples to turn red.

Molly Delaney (the author of this post) is a concerned parent as well as educational outreach director for Illinois Public Media and a member of C-U Fit Families and C-U Sunrise Rotary.
For more information on Eastern Illinois Foodbank, call 217-328-3663.

Will Work for Food

We started picking corn at 7:30 on a hot, humid Saturday morning in July. It was the kind of day where weather forecasters talk about dew points and heat indexes and "corn sweat." Within minutes everyone in our group had disappeared and was making their way through the weeds to the back of the field. It took about a half an hour to fill the two duffle bags that were strapped across my back, and when they were full I could hardly stand. I made my way back to the truck, bumping my bags against the tall stalks that stood on either side. When I finally stumbled out of the cornfield, I caught a glimpse of something that made me smile.

Standing next to my destination--an enormous cardboard box where I could dump my corn--was a man wearing a T-shrit that said, "Will work for food." That man was Jim Hires, executive director of Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

Jim greeted me with a water bottle and a smile and quickly emptied my bags. As I headed back into the corn I was reminded of the events that brought me to this field on a sunny summer morning.
It all started last February when my co-worker Dave Dickey invited me to a meeting to discuss the creation of a community garden that would serve the foodbank. The goal was to use land donated by Provena to create a garden that could provide fresh produce for the community--encouraging healthy eating habits and reducing childhood obesity. Since part of my job as educational outreach director at Illinois Public Media is to facilitate meetings for C-U Fit Families, a local coalition to prevent childhood obesity, I was eager to learn more.

After that first meeting a plan began to take shape. Provena would donate the land and seed. University of Illinois Extension would provide agricultural expertise. A local farmer would sow the seed. And several of us would recruit volunteers when it came time to harvest. Although the first meeting took place on a cold day in February. I was warmed by the thought of this garden and the impact it could have on the community. You might have read about plans for the garden in a blog post back in March.
Over the next few months I learned more about the foodbank and the work they do in central Illinois. In February and April my Rotary (C-U Sunrise) organized volunteers for food repacking events at the foodbank, and I participated. Then in March, Illinois Public Media partnered with Common Ground Food Coop and Busey to raise awareness and support for the foodbank during our spring TV pledge drive. The more I learned about Eastern Illinois Foodbank, the more impressed I became with their mission and their staff.

As spring turned into summer, I occasionally thought about the garden. When I noticed corn  growing in the fields around my house, I wondered if the sweet corn in the Provena garden was as tall. Then in mid-July I received an email letting me know the sweet corn was almost ready. I forwarded the email to members of my Rotary and organized volunteers into shifts. As a joke, I asked my teenage daughter if she wanted to get up early to help and, to my surprise, she said, "Sure." (She helped with one of the food repacks back in February, and I guess she was as impressed with the foodbank as I was.)

About fifteen of us descended on the cornfields that morning, and before noon we had picked 2,700 lbs. of sweet corn. Added to the 2,700 lbs. picked by volunteers the weekend before, I would say that's a pretty good haul.
On the drive home, my daughter and I were smiling. Although the conditions weren't pleasant, both of us agreed it was a very satisfying experience. Working side-by-side with other people who care about issues like hunger and health was energizing. In spite of the heat we left the fields feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Our time in the corn had given us a new understanding of the phrase, "Will work for food."

Molly Delaney (the author of this post) is educational outreach director for Illinois Public Media and a member of C-U Fit Families and C-U Sunrise Rotary. She encourages others to explore volunteer opportunities at Eastern lllinois Foodbank.
Molly can be reached at or 217-333-7300.