This Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for a very special organization and the work it does.
A few weeks ago, Tony Munday of Oliver Tourism ( and OOWA- Oliver Osoyoos Wineries Association) hosted a few of us local media to visit some lesser known and very very awesome Oliver destinations. We began the warm and sunny fall day taking part in Tony's newly coined "Volun-Tourism" at Okanagan Gleaners.
Gleaning is the collection of leftover crops after fields have been harvested. If you are from the Okanagan or any other agriculturally rich region, you have likely been alarmed at the food waste that covers the ground at the end of the growing season or between crops. In the fall, it's particularly hard to imagine all that food going to waste! Piles of apples under the apple trees, squash for days - it's all good food, just not "Fancy" grade or of Urban Fare or Safeway picturesque quality, so the farms who need to supply the products at certain grades don't have the systems to manage this secondary product. Here is where the gleaners come in! I can't tell you how much relief I had that day when Tony introduced us to Okanagan Gleaners where we learned about the process of collecting the secondary produce and making it in to something so darn GOOD.
Dehydrated soup mix. Since their start out of an old Oliver barn in Oliver in 1994, Okanagan Gleaners had their first production year in 1996 with 100,000 servings of soup delivered to hungry mouths for countries in need. Now in 2015, they've served over 5.8 servings of soup to over 55 countries!!!
Arriving at the Gleaners you find the modest yet incredibly productive warehouse and facility and alongside it, the campground where the happy gleaners come to participate in this excellent example of volunt-tourism. Each camper participates for 20 hours a week (a rewarding morning shift) processing whatever vegetable crop that has arrived from the nearby fields. This day happened to be onions.
We share the rest of the story in pictures:
The gorgeous free campsite in Oliver where Gleaner volunteers are free to stay as long as they commit their 20 rewarding hours of service each week.
From this old barn ( and a lot of compassion and service) in 1994 transformed in to the production facility, came 5.8 million servings of soup.
Here is the finished product. Not that it is "Not To Be Sold". It's a charitable organization. Also note, "In Christ's Name". The organization is christian, but it is not descriminating of anyone's religion and welcomes all to help.
First we were given the grand tour of the facility. Here, the map of delivery to the 55+ countries in need.
The major tool of the whole production - Gigantic dehydrator rooms. My camera steamed up in seconds in the hallway of 3 large dehydrating rooms.
Look at this little one sorting onions like a boss. Wow.
Okanagan Gleaners of all generations. Aside from the fact that we were standing in a giant onion processing line up today, the whole experience made me a little teary. Seeing this much love, from something I really hadn't expected, yet always pondered when I looked out at the "wasted" produce in the fields.
Now it's our turn to join the production line (left to right, our team: Roslyne Buchanan, Brock Jackson, Tony Munday)
As you can see, the onion is perfect just under a couple of slightly damaged or spoiled layers that render the onions unfit for grocery store display. Once they are processed, they are ready to go to the dehydation rooms...
... where they become this. The far reaching storable soup mix that has fed millions. I am feeling the love! Thanks to the Okanagan Gleaners this 2015 Thanksgiving!
To volunteer or learn more about the Okanagan Gleaners, visit their website. And please if you make your way to this volun-tourism experience, share your experience with us!
Tarynn Liv Parker