'Design Star' winner focuses on baby's health

Jennifer Bertrand, winner of HGTV's 2008 'Design Star' reality show, plays with 7-month-old son Winston at their home in Olathe, Kan. Winston was born with lymphatic and venous malformation in his neck and face and requires around-the-clock medical care.

TAMMY LJUNGBLAD

LIVE OAK, Calif. -- A couple of dozen people spent a recent Sunday living a little closer to the earth, as they volunteered with a group that has begun picking excess fruit from backyard trees and other "urban" mini orchards and turning the bounty into cider, chutney and canned goods.

The Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project was started last year by Steve Schnaar of Santa Cruz's Westside.

Schnaar, 34, works at the Hub for Sustainable Living in downtown Santa Cruz, and many of his fellow volunteers hail from enterprises associated with "The Hub," including The Bike Church.

Schnaar said the gleaning project has its roots in a talk he had with a friend about an "urban gleaning" project in Vancouver years ago. He added that several cities have similar gleaning projects run by volunteers.

"I've always done this on my own scale, and I thought we should have one in Santa Cruz," Schnaar said. "It's a very basic idea. We're off to a good start, but we have a lot of room to grow. There's so much fruit, we need more people."

Schnaar said he has long noticed trees in his own neighborhood that produce too much fruit for property owners to keep up with. And he said the tree owners have been happy to have the help and to share "nine times out of 10." If necessary, group members will clean up the fruit on the ground, too, and compost or green cycle it, organizers said.

The project has held more than 15 events, which featured pressing cider with an old-style hand press, curing olives and gleaning grapes from a chardonnay vineyard to make wine. They hope to expand into tree care and propagation, and to create a "public fruit map" they can use each year as the different fruits ripen.

A group of about 20 adults and children on this Sunday visited backyards in Santa Cruz and Live Oak and a Soquel, Calif., orchard, picking apples and pressing them into cider.

Ana Ramos welcomed the group to a property she and her family rent on Chanticleer Avenue that has a large yard with berry vines and apple and lemon trees.

Ramos said she heard about the group on the Free Skool Santa Cruz website and went to an organizational meeting at Trescony Park in Santa Cruz.

"This is great for them to come out," she said. "I want people to be able to enjoy the fruit."

Volunteers at her home used ladders and long-handled "pickers" to reach the apples and lemons, plus a couple of tree climbers. Many arrived via bike, while those with cars drove buckets of apples back to the Live Oak home of David Silva-Espinoza for processing.

In the driveway of his home off Capitola Road, a group sat around a table cutting apples and preparing them for an old-fashioned apple press that a group of families had loaned.

Silva-Espinoza, who works at the University of California-Santa Cruz, helped with the gleaning as much as he could with his 2-year-old daughter, Ama, in tow. She took a liking to the lemon tree, while her dad spoke of the philosophy and common-sense aspect of the work.

"It's communal, it's sharing, it's showing what we can do independent of any structural hierarchal organizations," he said. "We're basically sharing instead of profiting or competing. And look at this -- these apples would go to waste."