MONTGOMERY, Minn. -- Generosity was a seed planted at the Montgomery Orchard more than fifteen years ago, and today, owner Scott Wardell's mission to share the fruits of his labor has grown beyond imagination.
"I think without question, this is the best season we've ever had," said Wardell.
Wardell said the weather this spring and summer gave way a spectacular bumper crop. With that abundance, Wardell estimates he will donate around 12,000 pounds of apples to Second Harvest Heartland food bank and its affiliated food shelves.
"To really get the joy out of the orchard, you have got to have the ability to give some of it back to the community," said Wardell. "After you invested all the time in the orchard, the hardest thing to do is see any of it go to waste."
The giving is possible thanks to dozens of volunteer apple pickers. When Wardell called for volunteers, dozens of people like Joe and Greta Holkup, of Bloomington, extended their hearts.
"You can always enjoy the day and help people, that's the best part of it," said Joe Holkup, reaching high into the tree.
The process is known as orchard gleaning. The organization Fruits of the City completes the journey, packing up and cleaning apples, helping Second Harvest with the final sendoff.
"It's fresh, local, high quality produce that is the hardest thing for food shelves to get, so that is why it's part of our mission," said Jared Walhowe, gleaning manager with The Minnesota Project's Fruits of the City.
In 2013, around 500 Fruits of the City volunteer gleaners harvested 127,000 pounds of fruit for more than 30 local food shelves. The organization also accepts donations for backyard fruit trees. The organization is always looking for volunteers.
Last year, Montgomery Orchard donated 6,000 pounds of apples to Second Harvest, and on par to double that amount in 2014, volunteers reached for every inch of leftover fruit, trying to make sure little went to waste.
"And this year they have been having such huge, huge apples, I am just amazed at the size of them," said Greta Holkup. "Every one that was on the ground, how many more could have we helped?"
Minnesota families benefit from an orchard with a deeply rooted conviction, where this season, generosity grows.
"That really makes our heart beat," said Wardell. "Frankly, it's wonderful."