The Backyard Produce Project (BPP) began as a simple solution to two problems: unused fruits and vegetables in residential yards, and local families and seniors without enough healthy food on the table. Since its establishment in 2009, the grassroots nonprofit has grown in scope and impact to serve even more communities. The Backyard Produce Project now has five donation sites, a 6,000-square-foot garden and orchard, and over 100 dedicated volunteers. We spoke with Chairman Jane Radatz to learn more.
Q&A with Jane Radatz, Project Chairman
What is the Backyard Produce Project’s mission? How does the project work?
The mission of the Backyard Produce Project is to share fruits and vegetables from residential trees and gardens with low-income families and seniors in our community.
The project consists of three parts:
1. Donation sites where community members can drop off fruits and vegetables from their yards.
2. A volunteer tree-picking team that harvests residential fruit trees.
3. An organic garden where volunteers grow fruits and vegetables for the project.
All produce is donated to local food pantries for distribution to low-income families and seniors in our community.
BPP At A Glance
Name of Organization: Backyard Produce Project
Mailing Address: 16965 Cloudcroft Dr., Poway 92064
Phone Number: 858-485-5449
Social Media: facebook.com/BackyardProduceProject
Chairman At A Glance
Name: Jane Radatz
Profession: Community Volunteer
Community of Residence: Poway
When was the Backyard Produce Project founded? How has it grown and developed over the years?
The project began in 2009. Once per quarter, Palomar Health convenes a meeting of community members interested in improving health in the community. In 2009, some counselors from the Poway Unified School District came to a meeting and said that, with the economic downturn, they were seeing more and more families who couldn’t afford to put healthy food on the table, especially fresh produce.
The group discussed possible solutions. One of the members said, “It’s too bad we can’t get our hands on all the citrus that goes to waste in everyone’s backyard and give it to families that need it.” That was the start of our project.
“Our project started with a simple idea. It has grown because of the generosity of the community.”
Our plan at first was simply to set up a table in the parking lot of a community center once a month and invite community members to donate backyard produce. We started at the Rancho Bernardo Swim and Tennis Club, then moved to the Seven Oaks Community Center. We added other donation sites over time.
Then people began calling, saying they would like to donate their fruit but they needed someone to pick it. We recruited volunteers and started a tree-picking team.
In 2010, Sunshine Care Senior Living in Poway offered a plot of undeveloped land on their campus for us to create a garden and grow produce for the project. We started a small garden and expanded it over the years. It is now a 6,000-square-foot garden and orchard.
How did you personally become involved with BPP?
I was at the meeting where the idea was first raised. I liked the idea and got involved right away.
What is your current role within the organization, and what duties does it involve?
As project chairman, I have the pleasure of coordinating the wonderful volunteers who make the project happen. We have about 100 active volunteers, covering all three areas of our project – the donation sites, the tree-picking team, and the garden. It’s my job to place new volunteers and to make sure the volunteers have the resources and the organizational structure needed to do their job.
What communities does the project serve?
The project serves low-income families and seniors living in the Poway Unified School District – Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Peñasquitos, and 4S Ranch. Most of the produce is distributed by the nonprofit Friends and Family Community Connection. We also contribute to the food pantry at The Community Food Connection. (Note: Despite similar names, these are separate organizations.)
Can you tell us about the Backyard Produce Gardens and Orchard? Where is it, and who maintains it?
The Backyard Produce Garden is located on the grounds of Sunshine Care Senior Living, at the end of Monte Vista Rd. in Poway. Sunshine Care provides the land, the water, and the expertise of its Manager of Horticulture, Roy Wilburn. Sunshine Care also hosts an annual fundraiser for the project.
The garden consists of 17 rows, each about 40 feet long, plus an adjacent orchard. It operates year-round. In the summer, we grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, cucumbers, and melons.
In the winter, we grow broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, kale, and chard. The orchard gives us apples, nectarines, plums, and peaches.
The garden is tended entirely by volunteers who generously give their time and energy, knowing that all produce will be donated to others. The volunteers are organized into small teams. Each team comes once a week on its assigned day and works an hour or so, so the garden is tended every day.
“Sharing fresh produce is our way of sharing good health with our neighbors.”
What is the most rewarding thing about your role? The most challenging?
The most rewarding thing for all of us on the project is knowing that local children, families, and seniors who might not be able to afford fresh produce are able to enjoy the fresh produce we provide.
Our biggest challenge is getting the word out so everyone knows there’s a good home for their unneeded backyard produce. We’re grateful to ZCode Magazines for helping us do that.
What are BPP’s primary goals, both short-term and long-term?
Our primary goal, both short-term and long-term, is to increase the amount of produce that we collect, pick, and grow. Sharing fresh produce is our way of sharing good health with our neighbors.
What have been some of the organization’s most memorable achievements over the years?
Last year, we reached a milestone none of us could have imagined at the start. We surpassed 100 tons of fresh produce donated to our local food pantries. Even better, we’re well on our way to our next 100 tons.
How can community members get involved or support the project?
Community members can get involved by bringing backyard produce to one of our donation sites, by inviting our tree-picking team to come and harvest their trees, or by volunteering with us on the project. Anyone interested can contact us through our website at www.backyardproduceproject.org
Are there any recent or upcoming events you’d like us to know about?
Each year in June, Sunshine Care hosts a fundraiser barbecue for our project. It’s held at the Backyard Produce Garden. This year’s event was a great success, and we look forward to next year’s.
Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?
Our project started with a simple idea. It has grown because of the generosity of the community. We see it getting better and better.
Produce Donation Sites
The parking lot of the Seven Oaks Community Center, 16789 Bernardo Oaks Dr.,
Thursday mornings, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Carmel Mountain Ranch
The of fice of RB Haley Fine Homes, 12396 World Trade Dr., Suite 306,
Thursday mornings, 9 p.m. – 12 p.m.
The porch of 16770 Santanella St.,
Thursday mornings, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
The Community Food Connection, 14047 Twin Peaks Rd., behind Trinity Church in Building C,
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 3 – 6 p.m.
Rancho Family YMCA, 9410 Fairgrove Ln., in the lobby,
Mondays, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.