On a property in Valley Center, students from California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) recently picked hundreds of oranges, and they did it for free.
"They love it. It’s just a very grounding and centering experience," explained Nita Kurmins Gilson.
Kurmins Gilson runs the non-profit Produce Good, enlisting volunteers to harvest fruit from properties in San Diego's North County that would otherwise go to waste.
“We have so many people that move into a property that has so many trees and then when the trees start to produce fruit, they don’t know what to do,” she said. “There is a tremendous amount of fruit. It’s mind-boggling.”
Kurmins Gilson said this is proof that food waste is a huge problem, and the numbers back up that claim.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 30 to 40 percent of all food goes to waste in the U.S. That’s equivalent to throwing away about $160 billion a year.
Over the past six years, Produce Good has picked roughly 120,000 pounds of fruit in San Diego’s North County.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket. We could probably pick 10 times that much,” said Kurmins Gilson.
But the non-profit's mission doesn't end there.
All of that produce then ends up with some of the people who need it most: locals helped by the San Diego Food Bank, which is on track to take in 25 million pounds of food this year.
“It’s fantastic,” said James Floros, President and CEO of the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank. “There is so much food waste in our country and so many people have these orchards in their backyard."
Floros said about 70 percent of produce in the U.S. never makes it to the grocery store. He also said about one in six people in San Diego County can be classified as "food insecure," which means that little to no food is available at home, and often they don't know how they will get their next meal.
Groups like Produce Good are helping solve two problems at once.
“Hunger has nothing to do with there not being enough food,” said Floros.
That group of students from CSUSM harvested about 2,400 pounds of oranges in one Friday morning in April.
They are just some of the more than 300 volunteers a year that help Produce Good.
Kurmins Gilson said the only thing keeping the group from picking more fruit is more hands. Volunteers are always welcome to join the efforts.
"It’s free, and it’s in our backyards," she added. "The solution to hunger is in our backyards."