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Case Study: Community Harvesting in Ashland

Devany Navarro


Food is a necessity in life and unfortunately, there are many people who do not know where their next meal will come from. An article from National Geographic stated that “1 in 6 Americans don’t have enough food to eat” (McMillan, n.d.). The number of people who are food insecure; run out of food, or don’t have access to desirable high-quality food (Definitions of Food Security, 2018), is higher today than it has been in the past (McMillan, n.d.). Luckily, there are organizations that are working to close this hunger gap. As part of Community and University Public Inquiry program (CUPI), we have partnered with Flagstaff Foodlink and other community members to explore how we can tackle this problem in our own city. Our research question, How can Flagstaff Foodlink further facilitate gleaning “public produce” to decrease food waste and increase access and equity, has lead us to the review of current gleaning initiatives.  

When food is left behind in a field it rots and goes to waste, similar to when fruit is left on a tree or falls to the ground. If there was a way to make sure that people received the proper amount of healthy food on a daily basis, it would be a solution that the world would embrace. Lack of access to food is something that can affect people at different stages in their life; young and old, sick or healthy. Not being able to obtain food every day is a struggle that many people face in the world, including the United States, one of the wealthiest countries on the planet (McMillan, n.d.). It is important to investigate and learn from gleaning initiatives and organizations because food insecurity is a prevalent issue that affects many.

The organization that will be examined here is the Neighborhood Harvest located in Ashland, Oregon. Before looking at this organization and how they operate, it is important to be aware of what harvesting and/or gleaning is. Harvesting is collecting food when it is ripe and ready, while gleaning refers to the act of picking food left over after harvesting that would be left to rot or plowed into the soil for next season. The process begins by finding a tree that contains produce and asking for permission if it is on private property, but if it is on public land then there is no need. Then anyone is able to pick and utilize all the fresh produce that’s available. Analyzing the Neighborhood Harvest organization, will show new ways to harvest food in a community setting, how to collect information about trees, and how to get the community involved. This case study will provide insight into how to address our research question.


          Neighborhood Harvest is a harvesting organization located in Ashland, Oregon. The city is at about 2,000 feet in elevation and occupies over 20,000 people (“City of
Ashland, Oregon”, 2019). Their mission is to share the bounty of food that is produced from within the city with the community. Neighborhood Harvest is dedicated to harvesting fruit, nuts, and other produce that would otherwise go to waste and then distributes the abundance among the community. This is a volunteer-based organization which works to glean produce from residents’ yards, gardens, public trees, and local farms and ranches. One obstacle that the organization had faced was dealing with trees on private property and giving out private information. To overcome this, Neighborhood Harvest created a way for individuals to access and harvest on private lands by contacting the organizations directly. If an individual chooses a tree in a backyard or on private land, they must ask for permission to access the produce. With this in mind, Neighborhood Harvest attempts to reach the general public in the Ashland area, by connecting excess produce to those who are in need. They encourage people to volunteer to be pickers or lead group harvests and register trees around town or found on private lands.

To achieve their mission Neighborhood Harvest has built up a list with the location of various produce that is available all year long, as well as a list of volunteers to help pick. The organization then provides the locals with information on produce hot spots in their specific neighborhood. At the end of a harvest the produce that was collected is split up between local hunger relief, volunteers, the homeowners, and some is sold to support the organization. Neighborhood Harvest focuses a lot on small group harvesting events; when out picking produce there are three rules, be safe, be respectful, and have fun. This organization reaches out to inform the public of their efforts and future events through their website, blog, Facebook page, and various means of contact.

On the organizations website they provide information on how to get involved, what a harvest is like, how to process and preserve various foods, and a link to their blog; which contains recipes. To join their efforts, the organization encourages people to scout out new trees, find potential harvest sites, train to be a harvest leader, and volunteer. A usual harvest starts by sampling the fruit, picking up any fruit that has already fallen, and then harvesting what is attached to the tree. The only produce that is picked are from trees that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Once all the produce has been collected the site is cleaned and all materials are removed, the fruit is weighted, split up, and enjoyed. The processing and preservation page provides links to instructions on how to freeze, can, dry, and preserve various foods. Their blog has recipes that use the produce they pick and the option for registered users to comment on the page.

The main goal of the Neighborhood Harvest is to share the bounty
with the community. They are people who are dedicated to harvest fruit and nuts
that would go to waste otherwise. There is a wide variety of produce and nuts
available at different times of the year. They work to get groups of volunteers
out whenever there is a big production or a homeowner request. To date the
organization has collected over 10,000 pounds of produce.


          After evaluating the Neighborhood Harvest organization, it is apparent that a small town can easily supply its people with local produce by coming together to create a working operation that can assist the community. It can be difficult for homeowners to get out to their yards and pick all of the fruit that is produced, especially if the homeowner is elderly or works frequently, or if their backyard consists of acres. Neighborhood Harvest is very skilled at putting together small groups and having harvesting events, which usually results in many pounds of gleaned produce. This organization has allowed me to see just how effective and useful a central gleaning organization can be. I understand how important it is to have a tree database and volunteers on hand when it is time for the harvest.

While analyzing, I did notice some similarities between Neighborhood Harvest and what CUPI and Flagstaff Foodlink hope to accomplish with our own project. The overall goal is similar; to share local produce with the community and minimize food waste. Need for community involvement and volunteers, especially when its harvesting time, is also essential to the success of both efforts. The processing and preservation information that Neighborhood Harvest provides is also something that we hope to do. With our work, there will be value added projects, which include ideas on what to do with different types of fruit and information on how to do it.

On the other hand, there are some differences between how Neighborhood Harvest achieves their mission and what CUPI and Flagstaff Foodlink intend to do. Neighborhood Harvest performs many group harvests and they pick a majority of their fruit from private property including yards, gardens, and farms, while our goal is to create a knowledge base for the community to use to retrieve public produce for free. We want the location of all of the public trees that produce fruit around town to be known, so that people can pick free fruit when they need it. Our endeavor will also include a map that provides the location of these public trees so that the information is readily available.

Neighborhood Harvest is a great example of what it takes to put together a harvesting organization and provide a much-needed service to the community. The study of this organization will help CUPI and Flagstaff Foodlink contemplate what we want our project to be like in the end and evaluate how we will answer our research question. For instance, we want the outcome of our project to be beneficial to everyone in the community and this organization demonstrates ways that are effective in contacting local people about events. This organization also shows how useful it is to have recipes and information about what to do with the produce. They show that community knowledge is power and that is something that we wish to accomplish with our project in Flagstaff.


Researching and learning from Neighborhood Harvest’s work has shown me how effective a group of people and a central database for fruit trees can be. One tree can produce over 20 pounds of apples, which is great but only if someone is there to pick the fruit at the right time. Neighborhood Harvest achieves their goal in sharing the bounty by means of gleaning and with the help of its residents. They encourage people in their city to register trees in yards and gardens, and to keep their eyes peeled for fruit trees that can be harvested when ready. Individuals can contact the organization to get
information on produce locations in their neighborhood, and volunteers can join a group harvest event. The fruit is divided up between people who want, need, picked or grew the fruit, and nothing goes to waste. This organization is an essential part of the community in Ashland because of the amount of produce and nuts they are able to glean and prevent from going to waste, not to mention the number of people they help every year.


City of Ashland, Oregon. (2019). Retrieved February 18, 2019, from:

Definitions of Food Security. (2018, September). United States Department of

Agriculture. Retrieved February 18, 2019, from:


McMillan, Tracie. (n.d.). The New Face of Hunger: National Geographic. Retrieved

February 18, 2019, from:

Neighborhood Harvest. (2018). Retrieved February 13, 2019, from:


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