In the Pipeline: Nature abounds, share with those in need

March 11, 2014|By Chris Epting
  • Jeff and Fran Lebow in their backyard founded The Harvest Club, now led by the OC Food Access Coalition
Jeff and Fran Lebow in their backyard founded The Harvest… (Chris Epting )

It all started about six years ago when Jeff Lebow was on a ladder in his backyard picking persimmons.

After harvesting 400 to 500, the abundance struck him as almost comical.

So he gathered his excess fruit and delivered it to St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach, where Thanksgiving Day baskets were being prepared for the needy.

That simple gesture led to a bounty of its own: the Harvest Club of Orange County.

The club was born of the desire of Jeff and his wife, Fran, to think of a way to help find, pick and distribute excess fruits and vegetables throughout Orange County. They delivered 2,000 pounds of produce in 2009, the year they founded the organization. Then, after joining forces with the OC Food Access Coalition, they broadened their reach.

By 2011 they were delivering 24,000 pounds per year. That doubled in 2012, and by 2013 they delivered more than 50,000 pounds.


The message on their website is simple:

"Do you have fruit trees or a garden? Do you have produce to spare? Want to share with the hungry in our community?"

This goes beyond a labor of love. It's a labor of generosity, practicality and ingenious tenacity that keeps the good-natured 65-year-old Lebow in good shape — if not a bit weary on the weekends, when he does most of the picking.

Recently I visited the Lebow home to hear more about the Harvest Club. From the moment I pulled up to the 1961 abode tucked away off Beach Boulevard, I knew I was in for a treat. Nearing the front door, I was met with lush and fragrant aromas emanating from the many fruit trees, plants and flowers. The backyard is an Eden-like sanctuary, a cozy and rustic tenth of an acre that feels like it has emerged from a fairy tale.

The dazzling flowers include roses, pink Jasmine, Dutch Iris, cosmos, sunflowers and African basil — to attract the bees.

Then there are pepper, Mandarin orange, avocado, Meyer lemon and Anna apple trees, along with fat blueberries, boysenberries and strawberries. Plump hummingbirds buzz in and out of the naturally perfumed paradise, which was designed and created by Fran, a master gardener.

Over freshly baked biscuits and just-made boysenberry jam, Jeff Lebow spoke about the community collective. The recently retired economic development specialist began with a simple mission.

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