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Published October 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Apple orchards’ surplus + volunteers = fresh fruit for food banks

On Friday — for the first time ever — volunteers gathered at a Bayfield orchard to pick apples for the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

On Friday — for the first time ever — volunteers gathered at a Bayfield orchard to pick apples for the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.

This week, the food bank hopes to salvage even more apples, when volunteers will labor at a larger Bayfield orchard over two days.

“The size of the donation is strictly dependent on how many volunteers we get,” Mary Beth Dickey said. “This is a perfect example of how it’s amazing what we can achieve when people come together.”

By day’s end Friday, volunteers had picked nearly 11 tons of fruit — a welcome donation in a year in which demand has increased by 27 percent at 31 food shelves the food bank supplies.

“Fresh produce is always a needed item,” said Shaye Moris, the food bank’s executive director. “It’s a nutritious food, it’s good food, so we’re happy to rescue it.”

Dickey’s job is to help secure food donations for three food banks serving northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. She got the idea of approaching Bayfield’s apple growers from a similar effort in the Twin Cities area. By chance, she got the idea in a year when Bayfield’s orchards are awash in surplus fruit.

“We had one hell of a good crop this year,” perhaps 35 percent larger than average, said Jim Erickson of Erickson Orchard & County Store, where volunteers will work on Friday and Saturday.

Normally, Erickson allows people to pick apples off the ground at the season’s end. Most of those apples are fed to deer. He likes the idea of letting the apples go to the food bank instead.

“They are going for a good cause,” Erickson said. “If you’ve got extra apples, you might as well let the needy use them.”

About 62 volunteers came to Bayfield’s Rabideaux Orchard last week, picking and loading apples into a semitrailer lent by Super One Foods. Brought to Duluth, the 21,840 pounds of apples are being distributed to other food banks, food shelves and a number of agencies the food bank supplies.

Marty Mehling of Duluth was one of those volunteers. He expects to be back at least one day this week.

“It’s a need that needs to be met,” he said. “I feel good that I can help.”

Jim Johnston of Hermantown also volunteered last week, picking apples from the ground and placing them directly in boxes, climbing ladders to pick apples into a waist-mounted bag, and helping load pellets for shipment.

“There are people out there who are hurting,” he said.

Sarah Bourcy, the food bank’s volunteer coordinator, predicted another bumper harvest this week. “It’s a larger orchard this week,” she said, “so we have the potential to pick even more apples.”