No orange from Safeway is going to smell like the perfume of this Stanford orange hanging out in nature,” said Jovel Queirolo ’14.
“It’s all compostable,” she said. She smiled as she tossed some peels into the shrubbery. “This is how life should be. What else would you rather do on a Friday afternoon before partying? Be in nature!”
Queirolo is part of Stanford Glean, a student organization that picks fruit from trees on campus every week. The team currently works through the Haas Center for Public Service to donate fruit to the Free Farm, an urban farm in San Francisco.
“What completes the entire experience and makes it tangible is to [deliver food] in the city,” said Hannah Kohrman ’11. “How incredible it is to see food pass from here to there and into people’s hands.”
Susannah Poland ’12 started Stanford Glean during the spring of her freshman year with Page Chamberlain, a professor of environmental earth system science.
“I had been collecting fruit independently around campus,” Poland said, describing how she and Chamberlain began surveying campus fruit trees as part of a larger movement for poverty relief.
The gleaners gathered by Tresidder before searching for persimmons, oranges, tangerines and avocados. The sun lingered low in the sky, casting a warm glow on the afternoon. Gabriela Leslie ’14 described how Bay Area weather makes a huge difference when it comes to picking fruit in January.
“At no East Coast school would you be able to walk around in flats picking fruit,” Leslie said. “This is absolutely my stress reliever.”
As main campus slowly emptied itself of students, the hustle of the weekday disappeared to make room for the weekend.
For Leslie, the activity has personal and philanthropic benefits. “When you’re working on a farm or in a garden, your physical work produces tangible results…rather than your mental work producing esoteric results,” she said. “After being so caught up in the mental life at Stanford, it’s refreshing to do physical labor.”
Stanford’s grounds are home to hundreds of trees with 31 kinds of fruit, according to Tim Huang ’14, another gleaner.
One of Huang’s favorite gleaning experiences took place in the faculty neighborhood where the team had posted flyers stating, “If you want us to glean your tree, we can do that for you and we’ll leave whatever you want,” Huang recalled.
An elderly man came outside of his home to ask the team for help with picking fruit from his persimmon tree, which Huang described as laden with “beautiful orange orbs like pearls.”
Huang was struck by the generosity of the man, who insisted on donating much of his fruit to the team.
“There was abundance, and they were willing to share with the less fortunate,” Huang said.
Gleaner Kohrman described how much she and her team members appreciate being able to provide their service. Before getting to work at the Free Farm, the team stands together in a circle to hold hands and share something they are grateful for.
Gleaners are often proud of the variety and beauty of the trees they spend so much time with.
“The first time, I was so amazed that we have all these crazy fruit trees here,” Leslie said. “There’s avocados, figs, pomegranates.”
For Leslie, being around the trees made her much more appreciative of fruit. “Normally, I would walk around, spot a beautiful apple [and move on],” she said. “After reaching the very top of a tree with the fruit picker, it was satisfying to have the apple fall into my hands.”
Queirolo said she sees her work with Stanford Glean as part of a long-term goal to improve the structure of the United States’ food economy.
“The way agriculture works in our country is that fruit is really expensive when it shouldn’t be,” she said. “Tangerines and oranges and persimmons are hard to get if you’re poor. As Stanford students, it’s our responsibility to change the way people think about food and show the underserved that they deserve healthy, sustainable fruit.”
Queirolo said any Stanford student is welcome to become a gleaner. “Something like food justice is perfect because anyone can do it and you’re learning at the same time,” she said. “All of us agree on the same thing, and we’re doing it to help others. I love it. You could do this. Do you eat food?”
“Yes. You eat food and you like food…so you should care about this group,” she added.