Soggy Boxes, Dry Fruit: Behind the scenes for February’s Harvest of the Month kiwi delivery

Of course the kiwis arrive in the midst of another atmospheric river.  Why wouldn’t they?  Their arrival coincides with approximately the 30th inch of rain that we’ve received in as many days.  As the delivery truck arrived, I was immediately soaked to the bone and wondering how to keep roughly 8,000 kiwis dry.  Laughing to myself, I thought about how fitting it was to be back on the job as Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Director here in the pouring rain after 4 months of maternity leave.  As the driver got out of the cab, he yelled to me “Do you have a forklift?”  I smiled and made body builder muscles with my arms and said, “I am the forklift!”   Postpartum workout regime starts now.

Not much is said about the logistics of how produce from the Harvest of the Month program magically arrives in over 300 elementary and middle school classrooms and 3 high school cafeterias.  We focus on the adorable things the students say and how they are trying new foods each month, which is obviously very important.  But let’s step back for a minute and peek behind the curtain, shall we?  If YOU were going to get over 7,000 students at 25 schools to try a given produce item on the same day- how would you do it?

It’s a logistical ballet that is both amazing and somewhat ridiculous at the same time.  For our delicious kiwifruit, getting to this delivery day has been a long time coming.  Vines have to be at least 3-5 years old to begin producing fruit and it takes roughly 230 days for that fruit to form into something we want to eat.  That’s over 7.5 months!  And that’s after waiting for many years.  If I plant a kiwi now, my baby will be in kindergarten by the time I am getting good fruit!  I’d better plant now to be sure she has a Vitamin C filled snack option for 2022.  A mature kiwi plant can produce around 50 pounds of fruit per year, if you are patient enough to wait that long.  This is all to say that February’s Harvest of the Month is the culmination of years of work, by the farmer and the plants.  

Let’s get back to that large box truck in the pouring rain, shall we?  He’s got 83 cases of organic large size kiwis coming from Wild River out of Marysville.   Our delivery is the only pallet in this giant truck, and the driver is used to a more “conventional” delivery location. You know, one with a loading dock, a forklift and potentially some sort of cover from the sheeting rain.   Luckily, he’s a good sport.  When he realizes we have to unload everything by hand, he smiles and resigns himself to getting it done (which is good because he has no choice). 

As we begin to offload the truck, Liz Peterson the farm to school liaison from Grass Valley Charter arrives with her son, Sam.  To the obvious relief of the driver (and myself), we’ve got reinforcements.  We make a fire line and begin moving 1,700 pounds of kiwis, box by box.  Soon, Heidi Zimmerman, another liaison from Chicago Park School arrives.  She joins the fire line (can we really call it a fire line?  More like water line) and the boxes move even faster.  Before we know it, the team is soaked and the kiwis are covered with plastic tarps- waiting in soggy boxes for the next part of their journey. 

And over the course of the next several hours, these boxes are picked up and shuttled into cars and trucks, some by headlamp- as 22 dedicated Farm to School Liaisons brave the deluge to pick up their fruit (perhaps wondering why they signed up for this job in the first place).   Then, each liaison goes home and counts each and every kiwi out into bags for each classroom, adding a half sheet tasting survey and a special cheat sheet with interesting information about these kiwis.  They send emails with lesson tips and tasting ideas reminding teachers that tomorrow will be Harvest of the Month day.  They make dinner, tuck kids and grandkids into bed and go over tomorrow’s logistics of regular life plus torrential rain and small fuzzy fruit.