A Trip To The Okanagan Gleaners
Oliver: The Land Of Abundance
Life is glorious here in Oliver where the sun always shines. I’ve heard through the grapevine that people flock to this valley for world-class wines, but I know that they also come for the farm-to-table culinary experiences and delicious bounty produced by this land of which I am proudly part.
This valley is abundant with others just like me and of course an assortment of my enticing friends, like those luxurious peaches, nectarines, and apricots, and the sweet vibrant cherries to name a few.
Then there are my veggie peers like the giant zucchinis and eggplants, and multitudes of those spicy “jazzy” pepper varieties. Those guys will get you sweating and reaching for a cold Firehall brew! Of course, there are lots of those sweet peppers too as well as beefy tomatoes, colourful squashes, and more.
Oh, and of course, Oliver is chock full of those popular grape varieties. They think they’re so great (and they are but shhh), this story isn’t about them.
A Little About Me
I’m conveniently easy to handle and can be taken anywhere without making a mess. I’m often tossed into lunch kits or backpacks.
I’ve been around the block, so people know me well. Some may think I’m ordinary, but I’m a household staple for a reason. I’m wholesome and sweet. I’m a timeless treat and often the centre of grandma’s pie recipes.
I’m entirely versatile. I can be saucy and turn to jelly when the heat is on yet remain clean-cut and crisp in the coolest of circumstances. I can also be pressed, fermented, and enjoyed in a chilled glass. I’m also great in sippy cups and have dribbled down the chins and onto the bibs of many babies. Oodles of my kind have even been dipped into caramel and molten candy. Whew! What other fruit is loved by all ages and enjoyed in so many creative ways?
My ideal partner has an ice-cold demeanor and is completely vanilla with a dash of sweet spice if you know what I mean. Together we are an enticing combination. Although we can be flaky when prepped just right, people always drool over our delicious partnership even when full and completely satisfied.
From Farm To Table
For most of the summer, I grew up on a large apple orchard until, with a gentle tug, I found myself inside a large plastic bin along with others of my kind.
Mother had prepped us for this by way of stories that had traveled the orchard’s root networks. We knew our purpose was important. Just how important I would soon come to know.
A tractor gently lifted the bin and transported us to a cheerful roadside market. This valley is chock full of markets and roadside fruit stands including the vibrant yellow Nature’s Basket and the deepest sky blue, Oliver Garden and Fruit Market.
Both offer something unique including farm-fresh produce, jarred preserves, Indian treats like samosas, yummy grab n’ go food, frozen foods, homemade sauces, garden plants, and more.
From our display bin, we had a lovely view of the smiling happy faces of all ages who oohhed, ahhed, and picked over us.
Many of my peers were quickly scooped up by locals and tourists wanting to take a piece of this bountiful valley home to their crafty kitchens and family dinner tables. Others ventured off to faraway supermarkets and even to local restaurants to be transformed into the most beautiful concoctions and paired with exquisite local wines.
An Important Purpose
One bruise caused by an over-exuberant child is what sent me on this unique journey.
I was plucked from the bin and placed with other imperfect apples inside a separate bin which was loaded onto a truck and transported to the most amazing bustling place.
There was a time when apples such as I would be tossed aside, left to rot, and become food for thriving insects, wasted.
In 1994, our fate changed when the Okanagan Gleaners Society, a faith-based organization that’s sole purpose is to feed the hungry in other countries, decided it was time to put all of us “imperfect” fruits and veggies to good use!
It all started when five local families saw the extreme food waste happening here while at the same time people were starving in other countries. They decided to do something about it and by 1996 operations were in full swing.
We finally had an important purpose!
The Okanagan Gleaners Society
At the time I arrived, approximately 40 smiling volunteers bustled about operating machinery, adding ingredients to buckets, bagging soup mix, packing boxes, and loading up pallets. It was an efficiently run process!
Greg, the manager, mentioned that each bag of soup mix feeds 100 people and contains an assortment of chopped dehydrated veggies including beets, carrots, sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, split peas, barley, and lentils.
Psst…those spicy “jazzy” peppers aren’t allowed at the facility as they “sting the eyes” when running through the dicing machine. Ouch! No Firehall brew is going to fix that!
All of the produce and grains are donated. Split peas and pot barley come from Peace Country Gleaners located in LaCrete, Alberta. They also donate carrots, beets, and potatoes. Potatoes also come from Grand Forks.
The onions come from Walla Walla, Washington and sometimes Road 17 in Oliver.
Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and other veggies come from various markets scattered throughout Oliver including Oliver Garden & Fruit Market and Nature’s Basket. Most of it (approximately 4,000 to 10,000 lbs of culls per day) is generously donated by S & G Farms.
Greg said the goal is to produce 10 million servings of food this year. That would be the equivalent of giving everybody in Oliver 200 meals!
He pointed out Oliver on a giant map in the lunchroom and all the orange lines that point to the countries they plan to send food to.
The food is all shipped via the Vancouver docks inside 40’ containers, each containing 1 million servings of soup mix!
So far this year, Ukraine is receiving 2 million servings. Other countries to receive food this year are Venezuela, Haiti, and Mexico.
Last year, a small land-locked country in Africa called Burundi received 1 million servings. To get there, the container was shipped south, through the Panama Canal, around the tip of South Africa, to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and then it was trucked the rest of the way to Burundi where it was received by another humanitarian organization.
The Okanagan Gleaners Society is run solely by volunteers and on the generous donations of others. On this day, 40 volunteers bustled about but during the pandemic, they were restricted to 25 inside or 60 when working outside.
Regardless of COVID, production still happened. The only real negative thing was the delays at the shipping dock. On the positive side, COVID forced the Okanagan Gleaners to streamline their operations and become even more efficient.
Currently, the Okanagan Gleaners Society is in the process of building a 5000 square foot storage facility on their property to house a lot of the barley, peas, and other goods that arrive on site. Sometimes they get 40 or 50 pallets of boxes all at once! Luckily, in the short term, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has generously allowed them to store extra goods in their warehouse.
The Fate Of An Apple
So, what is my fate you may wonder? Well, I and my kind will become dehydrated apple chips. We’ll be shipped off to another country to help those in need. I hear we may be added to oatmeal or, if we’re lucky, made into an apple pie!
What can you do?
If you’re interested in volunteering, the Okanagan Gleaners Society welcomes people of all ages from all over Canada who would like to help at the facility.
You can stay in your RV on their property in exchange for volunteer hours or you can stay in a motel or RV park. The Cactus Tree Inn, Mountview Motel, and Maple Leaf Motel all give discounted rates for those who volunteer with the Okanagan Gleaners.