Category Archives: GleanSLO Interviews

Meet Deborah Berger, Neighborhood Harvest Leader

GleanSLO trained a dozen Neighborhood Harvest Leaders earlier this year to lead small gleans in their neighborhoods. During these summer months, stone fruit is ripening early… and all at once… all over the county. We are averaging over 10 gleans/week! With minimal support from staff, Neighborhood Harvest Leaders take charge of the small gleans, gather the equipment they need, meet a handful of other volunteers and make sure everyone is safe and having fun while picking the extra fruit. They deliver the rescued produce to a nearby food pantry.

GleanSLO staff relies heavily on the dedication of these Neighborhood Harvest Leaders to get the job done! Here’s a word from Deborah Berger:


1. Why are you interested in gleaning?

“Because I love to cook with fresh produce and eat lots of fresh fruit, and I am aware that not everybody can afford these. I don’t like any kind of wasting and I am happy to contribute to honoring nature’s abundance.”

2. How did you first make contact with GleanSLO?

“Right after I moved from Germany to the USA I wanted to do some volunteer work in order to meet people and be of use for the community, a friend told me about GleanSLO and I signed up on the website and became a gleaner.”

3. What is your favorite part about neighborhood harvests?

“To see different backyards, there’s so much beauty and so much hard work to be admired and people who donate are grateful to see their produce being used for a good cause.”

4. How does gleaning make you feel?

“I love the physical work and that it lasts only 2 or 3 hours, I love being connected to earth and plants and the other gleaners – there are so many interesting people among gleaners, and it’s wonderful to meet them again at another glean.”

5. Have you ever been at a distribution or seen the food you picked be received by a food pantry or hungry family? What was that like?

“I was delivering food to 2 different places, AIDS Support Network and Salvation Army, and it feels good to be appreciated and welcomed by those who distribute the food to hungry people.”

6. Anything else you’d like to share?

“I like the organisation of GleanSLO, the ease and the friendly connections with everybody I’ve met so far. There’s a lot of smiles and laughter to be seen and heard.”

If you would like to become a Neighborhood Harvest Leader, we’ll be training the next group of NHL’s on Saturday, August 23rd. Save the date and stay tuned for more details!

Meet Tom Ikeda, a third generation farmer and GleanSLO partner

This month’s interview is with a very significant partner of GleanSLO, Tom Ikeda, a local farmer, who has offered his time, his knowledge and expertise, and has networked for GleanSLO in countless ways.

“My name is Tom Ikeda.  I am a third generation farmer in the Arroyo Grande Valley and my family farms over 800 acres of assorted vegetables as well as citrus and avocados.  I am also the current president of Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange (POVE), a cooling, shipping and sales cooperative.  I first became associated with GleanSLO about 4 years ago after my son went to the Salinas with a group of students from Mission Colllege Prep High School (MCP) to glean strawberries for a group called Ag Against Hunger.   After that trip, I was contacted by Stephanie Buresh from MCP to try to set up a similar organization here in SLO County.  I had heard about GleanSLO and suggested that instead of starting a new organization from scratch, we try to partner with them.  Contact was made in the fall of2010 and after a few organizational meetings, a partnership was formed.  That Spring, we had our first “trial” glean.  The next school year, we set up 4-5 gleans in the Fall and another 4-5 in the Spring and have done the same in the past 2 school years as well.  This partnership has helped to bring GleanSLO out to larger commercial farms and to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables going to the Food Bank.”

Tom has influenced hundreds of high school students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to work in a field. Students have gained an appreciation for farmers, farm workers, our local food system and the needs of food insecure in our local community.

Tom Ikeda and Dan SuttonAfter a food safety presentation, Tom Ikeda with Dan Sutton, Manager of POVE, demonstrate how to harvest kale at a glean in October 2013. Students gleaned nearly 1,000 pounds of kale in less than 2 hours.


Bringing the community together, in more ways than can be counted

By Caroline Ginsberg, first GleanSLO employee

 caroline_avocados blog

One of my most vivid memories upon arriving in SLO was the beautiful, incredibly fruitful orange tree that stood on the side of my little home.  Being from Maine, I couldn’t get over the amazing taste of the oranges and their abundance!  Every meal for months involved some of those oranges, or lemons from my neighbor or persimmons from my landlord… what bounty!  I remember taking walks around the neighborhood and being shocked by how much fruit was right in our backyards and yet often falling to the ground in waste.  I met Carolyn Eicher through SLO Grown Kids and began to feel the momentum growing in my relatively new community around the idea of gleaning and what this could look like for SLO.  Many meetings were held, ideas were thrown around, research was done, little gleans were experimented with… and then GleanSLO was birthed.  What a gift to have been witness to that process.

With the help and encouragement of many in the community, I applied for an Americorps position in 2011 with my time split between GleanSLO and the Food Bank.  I have so many fond memories of those days and driving the Food Bank truck along HWY 1 to gleans throughout the county.  From the farmers I met who opened their fields, to the dedicated volunteers who came glean after glean, the people and heart behind GleanSLO never ceased to amaze me.

When I was back visiting SLO this fall, I was lucky enough to attend a strawberry glean and see how much GleanSLO has grown and yet has been able to maintain its community-centered mission and mentality.  I have no doubt that GleanSLO will be a fixture in SLO for years to come bringing the community together in more ways than can be counted.

Meet Chris Aho!

The Full Circle of GleanSLO produce

By Chris Aho, GleanSLO Steering Committee member
& Director of Community Relations-Food Bank Coalition SLO County

I love gleaning… the concept, the actual work, and the great resulting benefits to the community. I’ve always disliked all the waste that occurs in our society (in the midst of real need), and so the concept of GleanSLO was an automatic winner in my book. Having been involved with the Steering Committee from early on in 2010 (even before it became a Food Bank program), I also got to feel personally how fun and healthy it is to volunteer in the fields and orchards. But as a Food Bank staff person, I am only now finally seeing just what an amazing benefit it is to our community. To see how the fresh local produce goes to kids lunches, or senior meals, or filling up wonderful boxes that are distributed to the needy, I can now see the full circle of GleanSLO. So I pick the apple, box it, and drive the truck to the Food Bank as a volunteer. And then as a staff member I also get to see the kids and adults eating or happily receiving the thing that I just hand picked.

I hope everyone that volunteers for GleanSLO can have an opportunity sometime to see a distribution or kids lunch. If so, just let me know and I’ll even arrange it!

School Fruit Drives, featuring Evan Jenkins

Evan Jenkins, GleanSLO ambassador for student led fruit drives

Evan Jenkins, 6th grader at Teach Elementary, distributed paper bags with flyers announcing his Fruit Drive last month. Evan is collaborating with GleanSLO for the second year in a row to fulfill his Community Action Project. “We were thrilled to see so many bags on porches! Evan knocked on the door of those who had bags on their porches, introduced himself and thanked them.  Often people wanted to shake his hand and thank HIM! It was such a gratifying experience,” said Evan’s mom, Denise. “We met a gentleman who wrote a letter and invited us in. I’m including his wonderful letter. One woman had spotted us, ran out of her house and down the street after us!  She wanted to write a check to the Food Bank.”
Evan collected 124 pounds of citrus and some apples.  One person wanted a sign for their yard: “My Garden Feeds Hungry Families.”  He collected $70 for GleanSLO/FoodBank.

Evan with fruit 2

Evan’s collected fruit was distributed to the Salvation Army where it was gratefully enjoyed by local neighbors in need.

Frank's thank you letter

A letter from Evan’s neighbor. Feeling grateful to be a part of this community – for the volunteers, youth and seniors that are committed to giving back and strengthening the bonds that keep us strong as a community. And feeling grateful for the gift of food that keeps bringing us together and feeding our hungry neighbors!

Interview with Norma Cole

My name is Norma Cole. My husband Jim and I became involved with conversations around harvesting the food that was going to waste in our county about 4 years ago. I was attracted because I could see so much potential for what this type of organized teamwork could offer. I saw potential beyond the amazing mission of capturing produce which was going to waste and getting it to people whose ability to have nutritional food is limited.

For me, (a former social worker), one important aspect of GleanSLO is the strengthening of relationships within the teams who go out to glean. People from church groups, schools, etc. can deepen their connections, as well as expand their sense of being of service to the larger community.  Individuals can develop a sense of belonging as they get more involved with gleans. Communities can organize to help pick their neighbor’s trees that might go to waste because the homeowner for various reasons is not able to pick and/or use the fruits. This can potentially deepen the sense of connection for neighbors who might have little contact with each other before. There is also the sense of satisfaction and pride when someone who needs the food for their own family is able to pick and deliver food to the food bank.

My vision is:

That GleanSLO will continue to grow in our ability to rescue produce and get it to our most vulnerable neighbors.

That we will grow in our vision of including the poor to be involved with the harvesting so they can have the satisfaction of giving as well as receiving.

That GleanSLO contributes to our communities developing a culture of deep connection, satisfaction, and commitment in making sure all of our neighbors have access to nutritional food.

I believe we all want to feel connected and feel a sense of contribution to others. GleanSLO offers this in so many ways

I have been honored to be involved with and witness the growth of GleanSLO.


Norma and Jim Cole. Norma Cole is on the Steering Committee of GleanSLO.


“… rescuing fruit seemed like such a newfound idea, 
yet so basic to everyday life.”
GleanSLO captures so much of the things I love in life.  When I moved to California in 1995, I worked as an arborist learning about all of the trees in my new home.  Quite different from the deciduous hardwoods I grew up with in Michigan. One of my first experiences as an arborist was walking down back alleys in SLO and seeing citrus fruits dropping profusely off the trees and rotting on the ground.  When my children were young some of our best memories were picking wild berries down by Morro Bay or picking oranges from our neighbor’s fruit trees.  As my children grew, I became aware of the Farm to School Movement and decided a garden at my children’s elementary school would be a great place to start.  I also began meeting with other moms who were interested in connecting kids to fruits and vegetables and we formed SLO Grown Kids, an organization that helped write Wellness Policies and start instructional gardens for schools.
In the fall of 2009, Carolyn Eicher asked me to join her in a meeting with Gail McNichols, the founder of Backyard Harvest in Paso Robles. I immediately said yes because rescuing fruit seemed like such a newfound idea, yet so basic to everyday life.  I have witnessed GleanSLO’s seed idea mature into a robust organization with eager volunteers and the steadfast support of the SLO Food Bank and community. My wish for GleanSLO is not only that it helps feed our county’s hungry with healthy delicious fruits but also connects people with the land and makes them more self-sufficient in either harvesting California’s farmers’ bounty or learning to grow their own.
 by: Jennifer Codron, GleanSLO Co-Founder


Back to Our Roots

Bev Aho, founding member of GleanSLO
“Funny but as a small child growing up in West Texas, I could never understand why food sat in fields until it stunk. So when GleanSLO was born, Chris Aho and I jumped right on it.”
“Sometimes I wish I lived in another nation where I could take advantage of making a HUGE difference in feeding this hungry world. But for now, I live in San Luis Obispo…. so what a perfect match: GleanSLO! I help people with too much food and zero man-power to make it happen. The farmers rest easier at night and the Food Bank has healthy food for those in need.”
“As a member of this community, I NEED to do my part and the Food Bank is a “no-brainer”.”
Bev See Canyon 2

100,000 pounds so far this year!

100,000 pounds!!! 

Can you believe it?

We had two recent harvests
which brought our totals this year to over
100,000 pounds– a new record!
A note about GleanSLO’s history…
In 2009, I read an article about a Central Coast chapter of a national organization, Backyard Harvest. I contacted the director, Gail McNichols, who was interested in having someone take over the program. With the encouragement from Gail and the support from Amy Grey, (National Backyard Harvest Director), we moved forward with this idea. My husband Andy and I started gleaning by approaching neighbors who had fruit dropping to the ground. The homeowners were happy to have their fruit picked for donation. The work seemed easy and rewarding, and after much research and thought, a small group of us gathered together to talk about the vision of gleaning on a larger scale in the county. The Food Bank came forward as the lead agency, with the amazing vision and support from Executive Director, Carl Hansen. We formed a larger committee, got organized, and GleanSLO was officially created. SLO Grown Kids, the non-profit that took over the existing Backyard Harvest chapter, hired Marjorie Collins Design to create the beautiful GleanSLO logo. Our committee believed that we had enough food around us and collectively we could make a difference helping feed people in our community.
An early significant partner was Cal Poly’s SUSTAIN program with dedicated professors Linda Vanasupa and Liz Schlemer, and consultant Roger Burton. Additional important contributors such as Stephanie Teaford, whom we’ve highlighted in a previous newsletter, collaborated and brainstormed with the bigger picture in mind.  We have many people to thank: Norma & Jim Cole, Jennifer Codron, Caroline Ginsberg, Pam Stein, Jim Patterson, Rob Coghill, Greg Ellis.  We’ll feature many of these early contributors in future newsletters.
We had many hurdles to overcome, challenges to discuss, but we knew it was possible. How? Through collaboration. With much gratitude for those early collaborators who shared this big vision, we are well on our way to being a program that many people know about in our county. We hope that through GleanSLO’s success, more people will notice the abundance around us.  We want gleaning to bring people together, neighbors getting to know each other over an abundant plum tree, volunteers meeting at a glean in a sweet corn field. That is how we have reached the milestone where we are today. Tree by tree, veggie by veggie, volunteer by volunteer, farmer by farmer.
I remain humbled to be part of GleanSLO and to have helped create this program. With the community’s support, we have rescued over 260,000 pounds of food in total (to date). I never could have imagined that when we were standing in front of that first orange tree.
-Carolyn Eicher, GleanSLO Co-Founder
From our e-newsletter sent out on 8/19/13
carolyn in peach orchard
Carolyn at peach orchard in See Canyon, 2012.

Interview with Chuck Asmus

Chuck collagePictured above: Volunteer Gleaner and GleanSLO driver, Chuck Asmus.

Chuck has contributed countless hours to GleanSLO, driving the truck for us, organizing equipment and gleans, arriving with a smile and great attitude for each and every glean. We are so grateful we have the opportunity to work with Chuck and are happy to share his story and highlight his contributions. We truly could not do what we do at GleanSLO without him.

GleanSLO: How did you find out about GleanSLO?
Chuck: My wife Betsy and I were looking for something to do together. We saw a flyer for a beach clean up for Avila Beach. Being at the beach helping to clean up in some small way, what could be better? At the end of the clean up we were helping pack up with the organizer. One of the couples, Marv and Pet Daniels, gave us information of another volunteer group, GleanSLO.  Marv even offered to pick me up on the way if I wanted to join them. What could be easier? No experience needed. Marv and Pet are consummate recruiters and they seem to be part of every local organization!
GleanSLO: What do you enjoy about gleaning?
Chuck:  Seeing other parts of the county and some of the larger properties is an adventure in itself. Several have great settings and nice views that are easy to fall in love with. At the end of each glean you get to look around, see what you have accomplished, shake hands, hug, pat on the back, with a bunch of selfless volunteers. They’re great people.
GleanSLO: Do you have a favorite gleaning story or memory to share?
Chuck: You ask for memories! I have many, too many to write. Maybe it’s because I’ve been gleaning a few days a week and so many stories! One thing that stands out is when the owner is out there with us and it’s an extra chance to meet more people, Mike and Carol, Doug and Debbie, Stephine and Frank, Holger, Gary, just to name a few.
GleanSLO: Thank you to Chuck for the countless hours he has contributed to our program. We cannot thank him enough, but we will keep on trying!