The Generous Harvest

Program Saves Backyard Produce from Going to Waste

Backyard Harvest program director Doug Hagensen (right) and volunteer Nicola Gordon
Paul Wellman

What a shame it must be to waste all those perfectly delicious avocados growing so amply in your backyard. There might just be too many to cram into your own stomach. Or there might be some fruit growing far enough out of reach that you leave it to the birds.

Now there’s a way to donate those extra avocados – or any other excess produce you might have – to families who may be less fortunate than yourself while scoring some karma points in the process.

Backyard Harvest program director Doug Hagensen holds some fresh picked persimmons with help from Volunteer Nicola Gordon
Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara’s Backyard Harvest Project, operational since June 14 of this year, is flourishing, bringing thousands of pounds of fresh produce to the Unity Shoppe for Santa Barbara’s less privileged residents.

Contributing to Backyard Harvest is convenient for anyone with excess fruits and vegetables who does not want the fresh produce to go to waste. Home and business owners can simply contact project director Doug Hagensen via phone or email to set up a produce pick-up. Hagensen personally collects the produce, which then arrives at Unity Shoppe the same day for direct distribution to Unity Shoppe clients.

Hagensen, who has a background as a cabinet and furniture maker and construction project manager, lived in Toronto and Vancouver in Canada for the first 30 years of his life and immigrated to the United States 14 years ago. He arrived in Santa Barbara in 2002 and has been developing a Santa Barbara chapter of Backyard Harvest since the beginning of the year; since June, he has been working on the project full-time. The notion to begin a Santa Barbara chapter came to him while he was working in construction and noticed the large amount of food going to waste in people’s yards, he explained. “I was very aware of the growing numbers within our community having a difficult time making ends meet and being able to afford fresh, healthy produce,” he said. These concerns motivated Hagensen to address both issues in one effective program.

Backyard Harvest program director Doug Hagensen
Paul Wellman

The Unity Shoppe clients have been referred by more than 250 agencies from throughout Santa Barbara County. The nonprofit strives to provide these clients with essential living items such as food and clothing at no cost. Providing food has been a struggle, and Unity Shoppe’s free grocery store was constantly lacking fresh produce. Backyard Harvest, however, has kept the shelves of Unity Shoppe frequently stocked with produce delivered straight from local backyards. Since mid June, more than 22,000 pounds of produce have been collected by Hagensen. (No surprise for Santa Barbarans: Oranges and avocados are the most consistently abundant fruits.) Roughly two-thirds of Hagensen’s gatherings are fruit, and he hopes for more vegetable donations.

Peggy Langle, executive director of the Santa Barbara Humane Society, said her organization has contributed thousands of pounds of produce to Backyard Harvest. Langle said she had been approached by harvesters seeking the Humane Society’s produce for profit, but turned down their offers in favor of Backyard Harvest’s admirable cause. Beginning in September, Hagensen collected oranges and avocados regularly from trees on their property. He has picked more than 450 pounds of citrus, and 1,700 pounds of avocados from the Humane Society alone.

“We will continue this program as long as Unity Shoppe has the need and we have the fruit. We chose to partner with [Backyard Harvest] to avoid having our produce go to waste and for an important need in the community; those low-income families who can benefit from a thing such as this is most commendable on the part of the Unity Shoppe and Backyard Harvest Program,” Langle explained.

Not only does Hagensen gather produce from residential and commercial properties, but additionally from local farms. Fairview Gardens has donated more than 10,000 pounds to Backyard Harvest.

The Santa Barbara program is the sixth chapter of Backyard Harvest. The other five branches are located in Paso Robles, Idaho, and Washington. Of the six, Backyard Harvest Santa Barbara has been by far the most successful, due to the area’s warm climate and size of the community. Up until just several weeks ago, all of Hagensen’s work was voluntary. Hagensen has recently become a part-time employee of Unity Shoppe and runs the Santa Barbara chapter.

A small sample of the fresh fruits made available to the Unity Shop clients through the Backyard Harvest program
Paul Wellman

Hagensen plans to launch programs beyond Backyard Harvest as well. The Backyard to Table Program is the current service where produce is collected throughout the community, transported to Unity Shoppe, and winds up on the tables of clients of Unity Shoppe. Hagensen is now trying to develop the Backyard to Pantry Program, which will produce items such as jams and dried fruit to stock the pantries of struggling families. Both these programs will operate under Backyard Harvest as sort of subunits. He hopes to have this program up and running by spring or summer.

Hagensen said he has big hopes and plans for the future of Backyard Harvest. “The long-term goal of the Backyard Harvest organization is to develop a simplified model that can be easily duplicated with dozens of chapters popping up nationwide. Backyard Harvest is viewing the development of the Santa Barbara chapter as an opportunity to learn more and organize this process,” he explained.

Loaded with lemons? Overflowing with oranges? Give Hagensen a call. Anyone wanting to contribute can call Backyard Harvest at (805) 844-8448 or send email to


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