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Squeezed by drought, farmer donates avocado harvest to the hungry

Forty volunteers harvested more than 1,600 pounds of avocados from Rick Sauerwein's Morro Bay property Saturday, July 19, GleanSLO Program Manager Jen Miller said.
Forty volunteers harvested more than 1,600 pounds of avocados from Rick Sauerwein's Morro Bay property Saturday, July 19, GleanSLO Program Manager Jen Miller said.

The drought may be negatively affecting crops in San Luis Obispo County, but one local farmer is trying to turn lemons into lemonade by donating his undersized fruits to the hungry.

Rick Sauerwein recently decided to stump — or cut back — more than 850 avocado trees on his Morro Bay property after his well ran dry and the trees became a fire hazard. Rather than wasting the undersized and un-sellable fruit on the trees, Sauerwein contacted GleanSLO to donate the crop to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.

“Every avocado grower hates to see his fruit go to waste on the vine, so it’s nice to see it being put to good use,” said Sauerwein, who also works as the engineering and capital projects manager for the city of Morro Bay. “We’ve seen the Food Bank in action every Saturday at our church and the impact it has on the community.”

Forty volunteers harvested more than 1,600 pounds of avocados from Sauerwein’s property last Saturday as the trees were cut back, GleanSLO Program Manager Jen Miller said. GleanSLO is a food bank program that connects farmers and backyard growers with volunteers to harvest food that would otherwise go to waste.

The group has several more harvesting sessions planned for this week, she said, including one on Thursday. All together, Miller expects to harvest a total of 3,000 pounds of avocados from the property, and Sauerwein will receive a tax credit for every pound harvested.

“Nutrition is a top priority at the Food Bank, but the drought is making it increasingly difficult to source fresh produce,” Miller said. “Our hearts go out to farmers like (Sauerwein), and we're more grateful than ever for his generous donation.”

Sauerwein will not be able to harvest another crop for three to four years, he said, depending on the weather this fall and when the aquifer fills back up to an adequate level to support the trees once again.

He does not grow any other produce at the property: “We lose enough money growing avocados as it is,” Sauerwein joked.

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