2011-12-23 / Community
Har vest of plenty
With five acres of orange groves in front of her, the longtime Moorpark resident set out on Saturday morning to harvest as many Valencia oranges as she could before the impending rain began to fall.
Penhall, coordinator for the Ventura County branch of the nonprofit fruit-picking organization Food Forward, hoped to collect 3,000 pounds of fruit from the hillside on the northeast corner of Grimes Canyon Road and Championship Drive.
The groves, full of the ripe California-native oranges, belong to Toll Brothers, the luxury home developer that built Moorpark’s Country Club Estates and The Pinnacle at Moorpark Highlands.
By noon last Saturday, Penhall and about 25 volunteers from Food Forward and Toll Brothers met the day’s goal.
“Not bad for two-and-a-half hours of work,” Penhall said. “We had some serious worker bees here today.”
About 500 pounds of oranges from last weekend’s pick will go to Moorpark families through the local food pantry at Catholic Charities. The rest of the oranges— weighing just over a ton—were sent to FOOD Share in Oxnard, for distribution to needy families throughout Ventura County.
“There’s so much fruit this year,” said Kevin Rosinski, assistant vice president of Toll Brothers. “We probably could have gotten more, but we’ve had a little bit of rain. We’re going to do another glean (or pick) here in January so we can donate more of it.”
Toll Brothers planted the orange groves in a corner of the County Club Estates community about 11 years ago.
By 2004, they started bearing fruit.
“ We planted them so we wouldn’t have an empty hillside,” Rosinski said. “We bought the property and we’re going to develop this section eventually. We just put the orange groves here in the meantime.”
The five acres of orange groves are a portion of 50 acres the developer owns in Moorpark that are slated for development in 2013.
Rosinski said the developer wanted to make sure the hillside wasn’t an eyesore for residents, so they decided to plant the orange trees to match the surrounding environment.
Once the trees began bearing fruit, Michael Harmon, land development manager for Toll Brothers, came up with an idea.
“We just started calling around asking who could take our fruit,” Harmon said. “The first few years it was Catholic Charities, but then the volume became so much, they referred us to Food Forward because they serve the community on a much bigger scale.”
About three years ago, Toll Brothers hit a record year for fruit donation, with 7,000 pounds of oranges going to county residents.
“There’s always a need for it,” Harmon said. “Whether we donate (the oranges) to residents here and they give the food away, or have (charitable) organizations come in, we have never thrown it away. It just feels good to have something that’s not wasted.”
Harmon said the hill requires very little maintenance. The developer does not use any pesticides or fertilizer either.
“We just let them go and the fruit is phenomenal,” he said. “I think our secret is just leaving it alone until it’s ready for picking.”
Food Forward, which was founded by Rick Nahmias in the San Fernando Valley in 2009, has one simple goal—to pick fruit so it can be donated for philanthropic purposes.
When Penhall heard about the organization from a friend, she decided to join the group as a volunteer.
“I did my first pick with them up in Bakersfield,” Penhall said. “And I just got hooked. I thought, ‘What a simple idea,’ to be able to help the community and have fun at the same time.”
Early last year, Penhall and two other local volunteers—Bob and Ryan Glatt—decided to start their own branch of the organization in Moorpark.
Since then, the group has spent at least one Saturday a month picking fruit from various properties in Moorpark, Camarillo, Simi Valley and Somis.
“We’ll do as little as one tree in someone’s backyard to an orchard with a hundred trees,” Penhall said.
Since the nonprofit formed, Food Forward has harvested and donated more than 650,000 pounds of fruit in the Southern California region.
Landowners interested in donating their excess fruit sign up for a pick at Food Forward’s website, and the organization brings volunteers.
Penhall said she hopes to continue expanding the Ventura County chapter’s volunteer base and to acquire a truck to haul the fruit to different food pantries.
“Right now we have a lot of properties on our waitlist to be picked,” Penhall said. “But we just don’t have the transportation. We’re looking for a stake side truck to help us haul all the fruit. We could double our work a month if we just had a truck.”
For more information, visit the website http://foodforward.org.