Salem Harvest's existing truck, Sunflower, carries a load of apples. (Courtesy/Salem Harvest)

Elise Bauman is hoping to get a truck for Christmas.

Bauman, the executive director of Salem Harvest, said the organization badly needs a smaller vehicle to help gather and transport berries and other smaller produce from local fields.

For over a decade, the nonprofit has organized volunteer pickers to gather excess produce from local farms that would otherwise go unharvested, donating at least half of the crop to Marion Polk Food Share.

The 2021 season saw a record blueberry crop for Salem Harvest, with volunteer pickers collecting more than 30,000 pounds from local farms - a salvage Bauman called “a ridiculous amount.”

The culprit was the summer heat wave, which hit during the peak of blueberry season and damaged berries on the top of bushes, drying them out.

“They had to leave hundreds of acres of blueberries just to go to waste,” Bauman said of local growers. Many plants had edible berries buried inside the bush, but she said for growers, it wasn’t viable to harvest only those. So Salem Harvest stepped in for a record haul.

Previously, the group’s blueberry all-time high was about 15,000 pounds in one season.

The unusual 2021 season underscores the group’s need for a second, smaller vehicle.

Currently, Salem Harvest has a Ford F450, nicknamed “Sunflower,” which weighs a ton and a half and can haul six large totes of produce - perfect for an overflowing apple orchard.

But for smaller harvests, Sunflower can be unwieldy to take out into the field, Bauman said. The large truck doesn’t fit easily between orchard rows, and it’s a waste of gas to bring its hauling power out for just one bin of produce.

To get by, Bauman said her Honda Element has been a stand-in vehicle at smaller harvests, but loading berries through a hatchback is cumbersome. Plus, she said her husband Tom is “tired of having mud on the steering wheel.”

Now, Bauman is seeking to raise $7,000 by the end of December for a smaller truck to aid Salem Harvest as it looks to expand for the 2022 season. They’ve so far raised about $2,500 toward the goal.

Salem residents Craig and Cherie Cline have agreed to match up to $7,000 in donations in December, giving Salem Harvest a $14,000 truck budget. Donations can be made online.

Bauman said a second vehicle will also allow the group to hold two harvests at the same time, increasing the number of growers they can work with.

Since Salem Harvest was founded, Bauman has been the sole employee, but that will change in 2022. She recently hired Grace Sheufelt, who interned with the organization in summer 2020 as its first ever harvest manager. The seasonal role starts in May as crop harvest for the year picks up again.

“It’s a lot - we average between 600 and 700 distinct individuals who come out to harvest every year. That’s a lot of logistics and people to manage,” Bauman said. 

She’s hopeful having more help on board will allow her to focus on executive director responsibilities like managing donors and planning for growth, which she said tend to fall by the wayside during the chaos of the harvest season.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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