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Using fruit that would go to waste to feed the hungry

Geordan Lightfoot Smith has recently picked more than 650 pounds of citrus, mostly grapefruit, satsumas, persimmons, Louisiana sweet oranges and tangerines. The fruit, from individual homeowners, would have otherwise gone to waste, he said. 
But thanks to Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana acquiring the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project, the fruit is now gleaned and used as a supplement to mobile pantry distributions or in food boxes for those in need.

“We are so excited about the opportunity to add the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project to our program services,” said Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, a ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “We are now able to help secure donations of nutritious fruit from generous individuals, and it gives the community additional volunteer opportunities to help harvest the fruit.”

Megan Nuismer, now a food source specialist at Second Harvest, helped implement the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project in Hollygrove when she was with AmeriCorps Vista. She had coordinated harvesting volunteers at Second Harvest until Lightfoot Smith took over the project in July. Since 2011, the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project has harvested 37,000 pounds of fruit in the metropolitan area.

The fruit is picked mainly from the yards of individual homeowners with fewer than 10 fruit trees. Lightfoot Smith, coordinator of Aquaponics and Gleaning, has traveled to the Carrollton, Treme and Algiers neighborhoods of New Orleans, to Metairie and to the Elmwood/Harahan area to pick fruit. During winter, Second Harvest also works with Plaquemines Parish citrus farmers on large-scale gleanings.

Once a homeowner calls to donate the fruit off a tree, Lightfoot Smith times his fruit-picking sessions after making on-site visits to determine the fruit’s ripeness. From that observation, he corrals volunteers for a gleaning. On occasion, he said neighbors even step in and volunteer to help.

Food security, conservation
Lightfoot Smith, who has a civil engineering degree with an interest in water resource management, enjoys discussing food security through the lens of conserving resources. He said trees are an important resource because their deep roots conserve water and provide food.

He thinks if people understood the connection between trees, quality food, food security and water, more individuals would grow their own fruit trees.

Lightfoot Smith encourages people with an overabundance of fruit on their trees to call Second Harvest for harvesting “to help use these resources and not let them go to waste.”

New aquaponics initiative

The fruit project is just one way Second Harvest is addressing food shortage issues. Another is the new aquaponics initiative that includes growing plants in towers without soil and raising fish in a tank.

Lightfoot Smith said he’s had success growing greens without much water in two indoor hydroponics towers. Cilantro, parsley, thyme, green onions, Swiss chard, arugula, red Cherokee lettuce, collard greens, lettuce and kale are among the vegetables grown. He chose these vegetables after observing what Second Harvest chefs used in the kitchen.

“I wanted to focus on what the kitchen was using,” he said, adding that he also concentrates on growing nutrient-rich food using densely compacted rock wool instead of soil, which allows air to circulate and roots to grow while holding plants in place.

The greens are grown for use in Second Harvest’s community kitchen for meals planned for seniors fed at the PACE program in Bywater and the children’s after-school programs. Three additional outdoor towers will be in use soon, Lightfoot Smith said.

A new 800-gallon aquaponic tank is in the testing stages at Second Harvest. When up and running, catfish will be raised from fingerlings for distribution to member agencies with kitchens, and fish waste will be used to feed the plants in the hydroponic towers. Lightfoot Smith said, in the future, the fish could be distributed in other ways to families in need.

Learn to grow plants
As an alternative to the larger-scale hydroponic systems in use at Second Harvest, Lightfoot Smith said he could also show interested consumers how to grow food in small containers using a nutrient-rich solution without soil. It’s called the Kratky hydroponics method developed in Hawaii.

With all the new food sourcing initiatives at Second Harvest, Lightfoot Smith hopes people start to recognize where food comes from, and it encourages them to grow their own food and be “more conscious about what they put into their bodies.”

While hydroponics might attract people due to the novelty of the food-growing technology, Lightfoot Smith says the payoff is modeling how if they “take care of the soil, the soil will take care of you.”

To have Second Harvest pick and distribute extra fruit on trees, visit To sign up to volunteer with this project,  visit unteer/gleaning-volunteers or call Second Harvest Food Bank at 734-1322.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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