The Story of CropSwap

One woman. One box. One car.

NitaLiving in sunny San Diego county, where there seems to be an orange tree in every back yard, I was always perplexed at the amount of fruit I saw on the ground. Why couldn’t we pick this citrus and share with less fortunate San Diegans?
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Even though the world was fraught with unsurmountable problems(as my teenaged daughters frequently reminded me), this seemed like such a solvable dilemma. Maybe this was what compelled me to pass out flyers and start picking fruit. I couldn’t solve most things, but here was one thing I could do. I couldn’t save the world but I could save some fruit.

In early 2010, I started picking the excess fruit of friends and neighbors and taking the bounty to the North County Food bank. My first “harvests” were only about 50 pounds each (a few grocery bags full) but slowly I was able to find volunteers to drive out to Valley Center, Escondido, San Marcos and Fallbrook with me — where the orange groves are everywhere. We would bring boxes, fill them, load up our cars and drive the fruit to the food bank. Each pick was different and delightful, fragrant, and enjoyable for both the pickers and donors, and it was progressively easier to augment both pools.

Through word of mouth, CropSwap had expanded to larger orchards and bigger gleanings. In 2012, I began collaborating with Feeding America, where, with the use of their trucks and bins, we expanded CropSwap’s harvests to 800+ pounds each.

What started with one woman, one box and one car, had, by 2016, expanded to 300 volunteers and 50 grower/donors, to become the most active gleaning group in North San Diego County. After joining forces with my new partners Jeri and Alex White and incorporating ProduceGood, we now also partner with San Diego Food Bank. To date, CropSwap has harvested over 95,000 pounds of fruit, which translates into almost 300,000 servings of nutritious fruit to the food insecure of San Diego. We have diverted 45 tons of delicious food that would have otherwise been wasted, from going into the landfill.

With the growing awareness that 40% of all food is wasted, the idea of food recovery is beginning to take hold, much like the idea of recycling did 20 years ago. Couple this fact with the statistic that 1 out of 6 people is food insecure, and the logic and necessity for gleaning becomes clear.

By harvesting the extra bounty of our fertile San Diego county, and delivering to those in need, we are solving the problem of hunger and waste in one sweet step.

Nita Kurmins Gilson