Lorna Ross has about 100 orange trees on her acre of property. Most of the trees were heavy with fruit and required very little persuasion to give up their produce. All that was needed was a gentle nudge and the oranges would tumble off of their stems into our basket poles, ready to be peeled and eaten. Everywhere you look, there’s citrus. Citrus in the branches overhead. Citrus at eye-level, waist-level, knee-level. Citrus underfoot. It’s overwhelming. Our team of seven volunteers could spend the whole day picking oranges in that orchard and still feel like we’ve only harvested a tiny fraction of the amount of oranges ripe for the picking.
But our totals for the day said otherwise. In two hours, our volunteers harvested 990 pounds of fruit, enough to feed 2,640 people.
These trees haven’t always been supplying fruit to the needy. Decades ago, Lorna and her husband purchased the property and became a part of the Sunkist cooperative. They supplied oranges to Sunkist for years. And they weren’t the only ones. Growers around Orange County took advantage of area’s rich soil and ample sunlight to plant fruit orchards and vegetable fields in order to sell their produce to commercial buyers. However, as the years went by these lands were paved over to make room for development. Sunkist no longer sent professional harvest teams to Orange County, as there is not enough work for them here. Lorna Ross is now one of the few remaining landowners in Orange County with highly productive orange orchards.
By covering our soils with a thick layer of concrete, we are now less able to grow our own food and support a robust local food system. Yet, we have the natural resources to do this. With the Californian sunshine and a year-round growing season, we have the potential to grow our own foods, to eat locally, to cut down on the carbon footprint created when we import our produce from across the country, from across the sea. If any place could do this, is it here, with us. We have the potential to make Orange County a region of productive growing spaces.
So plant some fruit trees in your backyard! It doesn’t have to be a hundred. One or two would do. And share your produce with your family, your friends, your neighbors. Donate the fruit to those who need it, who can’t afford it. Together, we can replant Orange County. Together, we can reduce our carbon footprint. Together, we can fight hunger.