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Paul Wellman

The Beauty of Backyard Bounty

Team of Volunteers Collects and Distributes Extra Produce to Those In Need


When life gives you avocados, make guacamole.

When life gives you too many, call Backyard Bounty.

For the last three years, Doug Hagensen and Jim Roehrig of Backyard Bounty have taken Santa Barbara’s excess produce — which would otherwise end up in a landfill or on the ground — and given it to needy families looking for a healthy meal.

Clockwise from center Backyard Harvest program director Doug Hagensen, with volunteers Dave Grouulex, Kate Clarke, Daniela Demetrio, Virginia Clarke, and John-peter Yunka pose with a sampling of an afternoon's work.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Clockwise from center Backyard Harvest program director Doug Hagensen, with volunteers Dave Grouulex, Kate Clarke, Daniela Demetrio, Virginia Clarke, and John-peter Yunka pose with a sampling of an afternoon’s work.

“It’s easy to write a check,” Roehrig said of the typical money donor. “It’s something else to come out every day and put fresh food on the table.”

Today, Doug, Jim, and an estimated 75 volunteers from other food banks will tackle their largest feat to date: A Carpinteria orange grove where they expect to pick 15,000 pounds of citrus.

“We’re trying to show these larger donors that we can handle these bigger jobs,” Hagensen said.

In the last three years, Backyard Bounty has picked, pulled, and plucked more than 300,000 pounds of produce. And they want to pick more. Hagensen said that there are lots of yards that need harvesting; they just don’t have enough volunteers to cover all the jobs.

“My Advil consumption has gone off the map,” Roehrig joked. “We need all the help we can get.”

By Paul Wellman

Backyard Bounty program volunteers John-peter Yunka and Virginia Clarke with fresh picked avos.

Santa Barbara County is ranked number 22 in the country for agricultural sales totaling $1.3 billion worth of produce products annually.

A Mathematica Policy Research study on hunger concluded that in Santa Barbara County, one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world, more than one in three low-income households does not know where their next meal will come from.

“It’s a scary thought that some people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Especially in a place as abundant as Santa Barbara,” Roehrig said.

 Backyard Bounty program volunteer Dave Grouulex with a load of fresh picked avos.
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Paul Wellman

Backyard Bounty program volunteer Dave Grouulex with a load of fresh picked avos.

Anyone can help. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have to give.

“I’ve picked fruits on gorgeous Montecito properties, trailer parks in Goleta, and everything in between,” Roehrig said. “We appreciate every donation.”

Giving produce is also a tax write-off. Some farmers are even getting a better deal with the tax write-off than they do selling the fruit to grocery stores.

“It’s a way we can give back and receive at the same time,” FoodBank Development Director Kerry Main Aller said. “We want to make sure everyone is fed.”

Three to four times a week, Doug and Jim are picking oranges, avocados, kumquats, or whatever else is in season. Because of the gloomy weather this summer, oranges have stayed on the trees longer than expected. But for Doug and Jim, that’s okay.

Backyard Bounty program director Doug Hagensen.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Backyard Bounty program director Doug Hagensen.

“It’s nice to pick fruit when the sun’s not burning your ass,” Roehrig joked.

As part of the FoodBank of Santa Barbara, the produce picked from Backyard Bounty makes its way to about 260 nonprofit organizations that include Catholic Charities, Casa Esperanza, and the Salvation Army.

When the local Food Bank is overstocked, the excess produce is given to the FoodBank in San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties.

Then there’s also the educational aspect of giving.

“We’re not just trying to push food in front of people, we’re also trying to educate them about good food,” Roehrig said.

For more information on donating or volunteering, call (805) 284-5407 or go here.

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