What to do with your bumper crop of fruit? Feed your neighbors.

Illustration by Sophia Pappas

Fruitful Idea

A warm spring brought larger-than-usual fruit loads to many backyard trees — and an abundance of homegrown produce. While a blessing, such a huge harvest can become a headache.

At Sacramento’s River City Food Bank, executive director Amanda McCarthy takes anyone’s excess bags of fresh oranges, apples, and other fruit. She has families to feed.

“Our need has gone through the roof!” she says. “We see a lot of neighbors helping neighbors … No one should experience hunger when we’re literally growing food in our backyards.”

Individuals may pick their own fruit to donate, or they may call in volunteer harvesters to do the gleaning — gathering food that otherwise would go to waste. They can join volunteer gleaning groups, such as Harvest Sacramento or Yolo Grown, or form their own neighborhood gleaning group. 

“We welcome all kinds of donations!” McCarthy adds. “We love when people bring in fresh oranges, peaches, and other fruit from their trees.”


The need for fresh produce has never been greater.

“During the pandemic, we saw a 30 percent increase in people needing service, to more than 200,000,” McCarthy says. 

In 2021, River City provided 2.1 million pounds of healthy food, half of it fresh produce.

Sacramento’s oldest food bank, River City, accepts donations of fresh fruits and vegetables at its two locations (Midtown Sacramento and Arden Arcade) on two mornings each week; no appointment is necessary. (See Rivercityfoodbank.org for details.) Volunteers sort the donations and dispose of bruised or buggy fruit.

“We operate on an honor system; if you wouldn’t eat it yourself, don’t bring it to the food bank,” McCarthy says. “We trust people are giving us food that’s been safely kept (and shows no signs of decay).”

Citrus and apples are always in demand. Among unusual requests are dates, figs, and pomegranates — favorites among recent immigrants. 

In Yolo County, Yolo Grown (part of Yolo Food Bank) gleans crops from small farms and orchards as well as Woodland and Davis backyards. Some farmers, such as Jim and Deborah Durst of Esparto, grow crops specifically for Yolo Grown, and volunteers harvest their produce.

“We’re in a unique situation,” says Jim Newton, nutrition sourcing coordinator at Yolo Food Bank. “We’re surrounded by farmland. Farmers are very generous; their main goal is to feed people.”

Last year, Yolo Grown gleaned and distributed 900,000 pounds of produce, three times the demand before the pandemic.

Yolo Grown partners with gleaning volunteer organizations, Community Harvest of Davis and Woodland Community Harvest; crews harvest backyard fruit two or three times a week, as requested. Residents should contact Yolo Food Bank (Yolofoodbank.org) to schedule times to drop off excess produce or for gleaners to remove it.

Coordinated by Soil Born Farms, Harvest Sacramento targets backyard citrus in winter and spring, but it helps with other gleaning efforts year-round. Ideal for gleaning, citrus is plentiful in Sacramento and travels well off the tree. Email Harvestsacramento@soilborn.org or visit Soilborn.org for details.

Sierra Harvest gleans the Gold Country. Based in Nevada City, it organizes volunteers to harvest fresh food, then donates it to Interfaith Food Ministry, which distributes the produce. Visit Sierraharvest.org/gleaning for details.

You can also donate directly to a food pantry near you. Ampleharvest.org hosts an online matching service in which gardeners or small farmers with excess produce can find someone nearby who would really appreciate it; 8,000 food pantries are listed nationwide. Go to Ampleharvest.org/find-pantry for details.

Wherever you choose to donate, your homegrown, healthy, fresh fruits will wind up in the stomachs of folks who need them rather than rot on the ground. That’s what gleaning is all about.