Edible Heroes

Doug Hagensen to the Rescue

by Nancy Oster

As I look out my kitchen window at a tree full of ripening kumquats, I’m wondering what I’ll do when they all ripen at once. How could I possibly use that many kumquats in a month, or even a year? Sure I’ll make some marmalade, but how many jars can I actually use or give away?

Thanks to Backyard Harvester Doug Hagensen, we now have another option for harvest overload. Doug comes to your home to harvest your fruits or vegetables and transports the excess to Unity Shoppe for distribution to local families in need of food.

Doug and his wife, Stephanie Hagensen, began forming Backyard Harvest in early 2008, then
they joined forces in June with Unity Shoppe Executive Director Tom Reed to make Backyard Harvest an official project of that local nonprofit.

Doug says, “We have provided 30,000 pounds of produce that they would never have had, giving clients a solid stream of nutritious produce to put on their tables.” Unity Shoppe, started by Pearl Chase over 90 years ago, provides food, clothing and other household necessities free of charge to people facing personal economic crisis, including our recent Tea Fire victims.

Doug collects and delivers two-thirds of all the produce Unity Shoppe distributes. Donors currently include about 75 homeowners, 3 local farms, farmers market vendors and the Humane Society. This is community working at its best.

Moving here from the San Francisco area in 2002, Doug went to work in the construction industry. Two years ago he began managing projects for Skyeline Construction, a local residential and commercial contactor focused on environmentally conscious building practices.

Doug says, “While working in construction, I constantly noticed the abundance of food growing on residential properties going to waste or under-utilized. I also became increasingly aware that, despite the general affluence of our community, many people are struggling to make ends meet and likely not eating very healthy food. I felt a need to create a link between these two elements.” Concerned about the bigger issues of energy costs, climate change and the world food crisis, he wanted to give people
an opportunity to participate in a local food movement.

Researching online, Doug discovered other gleaning organizations existed, so he worked with Backyard Harvest founder Amy Grey in Idaho to create a Santa Barbara chapter and set out to develop a community network for his program. His first support came from his employer Skye McGinnis of Skyeline Construction, who donated full-time use of the Backyard Harvest truck. Collaboration with Fairview Gardens has brought in over 11,000 pounds of produce. Shepherd Farms and Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Organic Market Garden also donate food regularly.

On a visit to the Humane Society to adopt a dog, Doug noticed avocado and orange trees growing on the property. When he told Executive Director Peggy Langle about his program, she offered the produce from their trees. That’s currently about 4,500 pounds of ongoing harvest.

The Fund for Santa Barbara recently awarded Backyard Harvest a grant to help further develop the program. He plans initially to expand his volunteer base. At present he does about 95 percent of the harvesting and transportation himself, mostly unpaid. But there are perks, such as a donor who offered him a swim in her pool with her two golden retrievers on an especially hot day, or the motherly German woman who invited him in and conversed with him in German over a homemade lunch.

Doug foresees harvests of over 100,000 pounds and would like to develop a Backyard to Pantry program, to teach people how to make juices, preserves and dried fruit to extend produce shelf life. Doug says, “I’d like to collaborate with agencies both in development and running the program with an at-risk population such as adults with developmental disabilities or youth at risk. These products could be distributed throughout the community under the Backyard Harvest label, re-localizing our food.”

He would also like to work with local school children. He says, “Educating the community about the food movement and the importance of localizing food production that includes growing more in our backyards (lower carbon in-puts and out-puts, keeping our dollars in the community, improving our relationship with our food) is a fundamental principle of Backyard Harvest.”

Word-of-mouth has been his best resource since picking his first peaches, tangerines and lemons from the Montecito home of Judy and Bob Cresap. I learned about his service from Lucy Thomas, who harvests a prolific persimmon tree her neighbor shares with her on the Westside. Lucy says, “We called Doug back to pick a second time when none of us could eat one more persimmon.”

So you can bet I’ll be calling on Edible Hero Doug Hagensen soon to help me make sure all my kumquats find their way onto a plate, not into a trash can.

If Nancy Oster isn’t writing, baking or eating, she is probably sleeping. She developed the recipes for Chet the Gecko’s Detective Guide (and Cookbook) and writes the Starlight Bakery blog.

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Categories Spring 2009