Gleaning Among the Ghosts


Stumped Avocado Trees
Stumped Avocado Trees


I’m involved with a local gleaning program, GleanSLO, and usually it’s a slam dunk win-win-win all the way around. The GleanSLO volunteers go to a property – either commercial or private, to glean leftover produce and take it to our local food bank. Hungry people get healthy food that would otherwise go to waste, the property owner gets a tax credit and the pleasure of knowing their produce went to a good cause, and we gleaners get some exercise and fresh air.

However, a glean in which I recently participated had a bittersweet and sobering edge. GleanSLO was contacted by an avocado grower in Morro Bay who was opting to “stump” his trees due to the extreme drought here in California (see graphic and link below). There was no longer sufficient water in the property to maintain the trees, and trucking in water (which some big commercial growers have resorted to doing) was too cost prohibitive for his small family-run operation.

By stumping, essentially cutting off all the top growth so that the trees are indeed stumps, the trees will go into a state of dormancy until they receive regular watering again. After all that foliage is cut off, the trunk is susceptible to sunburn, which will actually burn the trunk to such a degree that it will be too damaged to transport water up and down the tree. To prevent that sunburn, the trunk is literally whitewashed with paint.

It was into such a landscape that we arrived for the avocado glean. A once thriving and healthy orchard was now reduced to stark tree trunks jutting up from piles of lopped-off branches. It looked like a ghost army lined up, perhaps awaiting nightfall to they could rise off and be gone from this dry, crunchy landscape.

Nonetheless, amidst all those thousands of branches were thousands of undersized avocados, about the size of a racquetball. They were way too small to be marketable, but they were still very nutrient dense. As gleaners, our task was to comb through all those branches and rescue those little avos for the Food Bank. After two hours, the 40 of us had managed to glean 1,600 pounds of avocados. Subsequent gleans were and are scheduled, and to date, the property has yielded over 4,200 pounds of fruit.

As for the avocado grower … after stumping the trees, the best case scenario is that he will be able to harvest a crop again in three to four years. Realize though, that “best case” means if we get rain this coming fall and winter, and if we get enough of it.

Those are a couple really big “if”s, and they loom larger with each passing day.


“Since late July, roughly 58% of the state was considered to be experiencing an “exceptional” drought — the harshest on a five-level scale.” ~ LA Times

(The dark brown area in the map below indicates “exceptional drought” conditions. Pretty much right in the middle of it is the Salinas Valley, an agricultural area often referred to as “the salad bowl of the world.” Morro Bay is on the coast, about a third of the way up the state.)

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