Many of Florida’s most popular and lucrative produce grows on trees: avocados, mangoes, starfruit, peaches, pears, pomelos, oranges, lemons, limes, and so on. Fruit tree gleaning is also an excellent chance to receive donations from residential or non-commercial growers, as many Floridians have fruit trees in their yards.
The primary safety concern with fruit tree harvests is falling. Both produce and volunteers are at a risk for a tumble, and even small heights can lead to injury. All volunteers must be briefed on ladder safety: how to set a ladder properly, how to spot for a ladder user, and safe navigation. SoSA personnel demonstrate these practices firsthand before allowing any volunteers into contact with climbing equipment. Children are not allowed up larger pieces of climbing equipment, however, they may need to utilize stepstools to reach lower branches. Only one volunteer or SoSA staff member is allowed on a ladder at any time, and if the ladder exceeds 10 feet an additional individual is required to steady it and spot for the user. Whenever possible, only SoSA representatives will use ladders, preventing volunteer injuries.
Falling fruit can also cause harm to gleaners, and may be damaged beyond use. Although it is inevitable, volunteers are instructed to attempt not to shake the tree branches roughly. The use of basket pickers also helps, allowing volunteers to safely reach and gather produce from higher branches without knocking it to the ground. Fruit pickers with shears or hedge trimmers can be used in coordination with baskets, enabling the users to clip and pick produce without dropping it.
The Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) can trace its humble origins to two families and a sheep shed in Big Island, Virginia in 1973. From these roots, the nation’s premier food rescue nonprofit has blossomed. SoSA’s primary function is gleaning, going into a field to harvest leftover or unwanted produce, and then giving this food to agencies free of charge. Additionally, SoSA has the Potato & Produce project, gathering truckloads of produce for distribution, and the Harvest of Hope, a retreat program for long-distance volunteers to glean and serve. Since 1995, the Society of Saint Andrew has maintained a presence throughout the state of Florida. The primary program, the Florida Gleaning Network, mobilizes over 3 thousand volunteers to gather 4 to 6 million pounds of produce annually. The Sunshine State is a veritable agricultural cornucopia, providing such produce as: onions, white potatoes, bok choy, peaches, pears, strawberries, cabbage, lemons, cucumbers, squash, starfruit, oranges, avocados, and the infamous Zellwood sweet corn.
The Florida office is located in Orlando and oversees all projects and events for the state. The state office team holds three full-time staff: the State Director, a Program Coordinator, and a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. The state is sectioned off into geographical regions: South, East, West, West Central, Central, and the Panhandle. Each area holds a satellite gleaning coordinator position who works part-time to carry out gleans in the district.