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Harvesting Hope of Tulare County

Sep 25, 2017 11:00AM ● By Kendra Kaiserman

Food for Thought

October 2017
Story by Kendra Kaiserman
Photos courtesy of Harvesting Hope of Tulare County

For Michaelpaul Mendoza and Harvesting Hope of Tulare County, it’s about going beyond the textbook.

Harvesting Hope got its name from a picture book about Cesar Chavez, and it started four years ago out of Mendoza’s U.S. history classroom at Mission Oak High School. The students were learning about the cultural history of the United States from the perspective of people from different backgrounds, including women, immigrants and social justice pioneers, such as Cesar Chavez, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. “I challenged them to come up with a school or community project that in some way would make lives better,” says Mendoza, the teacher coordinator for Harvesting Hope.

First, they had to choose a topic. The class brainstormed and came up with ideas such as helping the homeless, doing something for veterans and combatting cyber-bullying. Then the issue of hunger came up, and the decision was unanimous.

The class worked on the project for a year and participated in the StepUP Youth Challenge for middle and high school students. This challenge is a service learning program that gives Tulare County students an opportunity to serve their schools and community. “I devoted at least a quarter of the year of class to that project,” Mendoza explains.

“I invited local leaders who addressed these problems to come into my classroom,” Mendoza says. One of these local leaders was Dr. Sarah Ramirez of Pixley, outside of Tulare. She was the first in her family to go to college and she earned her doctorate from Stanford. She ended up moving back to Pixley and is now the executive director of the food bank that Harvesting Hope has been working with – FoodLink of Tulare County.

Under Be Healthy Tulare, students glean excess fruit from people’s yards and donate it to FoodLink. They mostly pick oranges and citruses, but have also picked lots of sweet corn in the past. “It’s a very empowering experience for our students,” Mendoza says. The focus is on food waste, hunger, food insecurity and their causes. People can get tax deductions on food that is donated. “And people don’t have to clean their yards. Everyone wins,” Mendoza says.

More than 1,000 students have helped with the gleaning over the past four years, from kindergartners through high school students, and they’ve picked more than 200,000 pounds of fruit. “It went from a classroom project to a county-wide project,” Mendoza explains. Now 15 schools in Tulare County are involved within six different school districts.

“As a teacher, there are just some things that can’t be taught in the classroom,” says Mendoza, such as social justice, equality and human dignity. Harvesting Hope “opened their eyes to what education is really about—not just opening the mind, but opening the heart. They’re learning  to help people. To help feed someone who needs it. You can’t get that from writing an essay.”

Mendoza adds: “We often overlook our students’ potential and the valuable resource that they are right now. It’s the number one resource that we don’t tap into. Through Harvesting Hope, students can experience what that potential is, not what they could be.”

Harvesting Hope of Tulare County • (559) 972-9148

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