Sunday, October 25, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle - Sunday October 25, 2009

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Lemon Lady Anna Chan branches out
Joe Eaton,Ron Sullivan
Sunday, October 25, 2009

Anna Chan, the Lemon Lady of Contra Costa County, says it all started last winter when her daughter, Ava, now 2, was being cranky. "She had colic," Chan recalls, "and I had to drive her around to calm her." (Child calming is an art. Joe once put a colicky infant niece to sleep by lecturing to her about the origin of the universe.)

"I started seeing all these lemons and oranges on the ground. I realized the homeowners weren't harvesting them - they didn't know what to do with them."

So Chan began knocking on doors, and leaving flyers when residents weren't home.

People responded, says Chan, a former dental office administrative assistant. "It was so easy to get the first bag of lemons. I just started picking. But I had no idea where I would take this produce. I started looking in the phone book under food banks and calling around."

Lots of food banks
She was surprised to discover an extensive food-assistance network in her Concord-Clayton area. "I tell homeowners, 'I could pick an orange from your tree and throw it to the nearest food pantry.' " While some pantries deal only in canned goods, others handle fresh produce.

The exchange networks for homegrown produce that have popped up in parts of the East Bay haven't developed in Chan's area. "People in Oakland and Berkeley are more into the foraging part of it," she says. "Here they're happy to give and just be done with it."

Chan expanded from citrus fruit to other kinds of produce. In spring, she began visiting a circuit of local farmers' markets: Walnut Creek and Martinez on Sundays, Concord on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Pleasant Hill on Saturdays. She networks with farmers: "Mien farmers with family in Fresno - they remember me and tell me where to go to find other family members (with unsold vegetables)."

The market visits have yielded as much as $2,000 worth of produce a week, some of it a little shopworn but still edible, as well as some salable items that won't hold until the next market.
The next logical step was helping people to grow their own food. Chan connected with Kathy Gleason, corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. On her own time, Gleason had converted a weedy vacant lot in a low-income neighborhood into the Children's Community Garden of Concord. "She contacted me and asked if I knew anything about gardening," Chan says.

That launched another project: growing several thousand tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash, bean and watermelon seedlings for donation to the garden, with some assistance from daughter Ava. Gleason says a core group of about a dozen children, from toddlers to 12-year-olds, help water and weed the garden, and a couple of neighborhood adults have pitched in. Gleason worried about vandalism, but that hasn't happened: "Everyone in the neighborhood respects the garden. I'm proud of the neighborhood, and I'm proud of what they've done."

Along with seedlings, Chan says, she tries to bring education into the garden. That dovetails with Gleason's goal of showing the kids where food comes from. She passes along seed catalogs for inspiration: "They'll teach you everything you need to know about growing plants." And they're usually free.

Seedlings provided
Chan provides seedlings to other community garden projects, including the JFK Garden in Pleasant Hill and a new Salvation Army garden in Concord. She's also been working with Concord's Monument Community Partnership, creating rolling gardens in pots for apartment dwellers: "I want to let people know you don't need land to grow a garden." She sees seedling donation as an important way for gardeners to help meet food security needs.

Last month, the Lemon Lady was recognized by Maryanne Lucas, president of California Garden Clubs Inc., with a special award for her "tireless efforts to bring fresh, delicious food to Contra Costa County's needy." What started as a citrus salvage drive has evolved into an expanding network connecting gardeners, food-distribution nonprofits and community groups. "I'm more of a resource coordinator than anything else," Chan says. Her Web site (see Resources) has links for all the local food banks. In hard times, it's a rewarding way to help those who have fallen through the increasingly frayed social safety net.

Read Anna Chan's blog at

Joe Eaton and Ron Sullivan are naturalists and freelance garden writers in Berkeley. Check out their Web site at or e-mail them at
This article appeared on page L - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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Monday, August 17, 2009

ABC7 Salutes - 'Lemon lady' comes through in tough times

Watch the ABC7 Broadcast at either of these links:

Anna Chan, The Lemon Lady website:

ABC7 website:

ABC7 Salutes
'Lemon lady' comes through in tough times
The "lemon lady' is making a difference in the lives of the needy

Friday, July 03, 2009 7:33 PM
By Laura Anthony

CONCORD, CA (KGO) -- She calls herself "the lemon lady" because of all the backyard fruit she collects and delivers to bay area food pantries. But Anna Chan does much more than that, as her way of giving back to her community in these tough economic times.
Anna Chan couldn't stand all the waste -- wasted fruit that is.
"I used to drive around the neighborhood and I'd see all the fruit ripening on the trees," said Chan.
So the stay-at-home mom decided it was time to get out, and do something about it. Now, Chan is known in her Concord neighborhood and beyond as the "lemon lady."
She goes house to house and with the owner's permission, harvests home-grown produce and delivers it to local food pantries.
"It's about nutrition," said Chan. "Fresh oranges, lemons, tomatoes, avocados, zucchini. These are all things that we take for granted, but they're not available to someone on a limited income," said Chan.
Homeowner Bonnie Wright gave Chan oranges that would otherwise have gone to waste.
"It seemed like just the perfect use for my oranges. Plus I have two apple trees that are about to begin dropping dozens of apples that I can't keep up with either," said Wright.
Over the past year, Chan estimates she's personally collected at least 5,000 pounds of produce from yards and gardens and driven it to food pantries that rarely receive such fresh donations.
Anna Chan brings much of what she collects to The Salvation Army Food Pantry in Concord, where demand for food has increased dramatically.
"We have seen a double increase in comparison to last year. Last year we were handing out about 200 food boxes per month and this year, it's double that, upwards of 400 just last month," said Stefani Varpi from the Salvation Army.
That's why Chan believes what she's doing is so important. Besides the hands-on gathering, Chan created a website to spread the word about what she does, and how others can help.
She's also organizing a community garden to grow fresh produce for families in need.
"Lots of local pantries need fresh fruit donations, Fruit is accepted. Everyone thinks cans and boxes. Fresh fruit -- think fresh, think outside the box," said Chan.
ABC7 salutes Anna Chan for her dedication to her community.
Anna Chan Blog

Email:, Telephone: 510.406.1625

Contra Costa Times and The Oakland Tribune - July 18, 2009

'Lemon Lady' thinks outside the cardboard box
Clayton 'Lemon Lady's' food mission a fresh means of help
By Laura CaseyContra Costa Times
Posted: 07/17/2009 02:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 07/18/2009 07:16:28 AM PDT

Anna Chan holds a tray of spinach and bowl of strawberry... (Jim Stevens/Contra Costa Times)

THE SPARK that ignited Anna "The Lemon Lady" Chan's one-woman mission to bring fresh, nutritious food to Contra Costa County's needy was struck by the need to lull a child to sleep.
Chan's 2-year-old daughter, angel-faced Ava, prefers to nap in the family's SUV. So Chan often drives Ava all over Clayton and Concord while the girl finishes her nap time.
In February, while Chan was driving yet again, the former administrative assistant-turned-stay-at-home mom was bothered by something she saw — lemon trees in people's yards, straining under a bounty that no one apparently was harvesting.
Pounds of fruit were falling to the ground to rot. What a waste, she thought, when so many people are going hungry.
Conquering her fear of knocking on strangers' doors, Chan asked homeowners if she could collect the fruit and take it to a food pantry.
The response, she says, has been an overwhelming "Yes."
"A lot of people don't know where their local food pantry is and they don't know that they accept fresh produce," Chan says. "For many folks, a food pantry is within walking distance."
Chan is a fast-talking, earnest woman whose heroes include fresh food activist Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse. Chan also is passionate about food and nutrition. She raises Ava on fresh, wholesome foods but realizes not everyone has the resources to do that.
"In poverty and food bank situations, people are living on canned food and what the government is able to give them," she says.
Fresh often takes a back seat to price and quantity.
Since February, Chan has built a network of more than 300 homes in the area where she collects fruit, and she's always recruiting more.
One early contact was Concord's Jack Farrell. Farrell has several fruit trees in his yard, all hanging heavy with peaches and nectarines. He uses much of the fruit himself but says he certainly doesn't mind Chan stopping by every month or so to pick some for Concord's hungry.
"They need the fruit, too," he says. "If she takes a bag or two, I don't miss it. And you hate to see anything go to waste."
Chan has collected more than 8,000 pounds of food in the five months she's been at it. She delivers by the bag to The Salvation Army pantry on Clayton Road in Concord and to the SHARE pantry at The First Christian Church on Willow Pass Road in Concord, among other places.
"It makes us feel better to, instead of giving canned food out all the time, give something fresh," says George Conlow, president of SHARE.
SHARE has been open for more than 20 years and serves about 600 families a month. Conlow says need is growing as more people are losing their jobs.
Chan's mission doesn't stop at the fruit on the trees of the homes she can access. She also visits local farmer's markets and networks with farmers who, in turn, give her their leftover produce at the end of the day. She takes that produce to food pantries too.
A consummate gardener as well, Chan has been working since May with adults and children in one of Concord's low-income neighborhoods to build a community garden much like Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard.
The plot, about 30-by-12 feet, is planted with an abundance of corn, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Many plants came from seedlings Chan started in her backyard.
"It's a miracle," a young neighborhood boy says of the veggies growing in the plot. He doesn't like tomatoes but he does like watering the plants and watching the garden grow.
Through the garden, the families living in the neighborhood can use the food without balancing its cost with other necessities such as bread, milk or rice.
"The children water it and keep it alive," Chan says. "I will give them seedlings until the sun stops shining."
If Chan sounds like a do-gooder whose devotion to her community and energy is impossible to replicate, think again. Chan set up a Web site to give people in places outside of Concord ideas on how to help the hungry in their communities. The site,, encourages anyone with a heavily producing fruit tree or bountiful garden to head on over to their local food banks and donate.
"Think outside the box," she says. "Think fresh and give what you can."
Contact Laura Casey at or 925-952-2697.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fruit Harvesting in the local news - January - April 2009

The Lemon Lady
Fruit harvesting project in the local news…

April 2009 - The Concordian Newspaper, Local Act of Kindness Brings Fruit To The Hungry Page 6, Volunteer Combats hunger pound for pound with fruit

April 13, 2009 - KALW Crosscurrents Radio Reporter, Martina Castro

March 20, 2009 - The Clayton Pioneer Newspaper, front page, Volunteer Combats Hunger

March 18, 2009 - KGO Newstalk AM810 Radio, Bret Burkhart Interviewed Anna Chan, The Lemon Lady, on location at The Salvation Army in Concord

Click below to listen:Podcasts - Good News: The Lemon Lady
In this installment of Good News, KGO's Bret Burkhart tells us about Anna Chan, who gathered fruit from neighborhood trees that would've otherwise ended up in the green bin, and took it to very grateful food banks around the Bay Area. You might say her plan came to fruition!

March 13, 2009 - Food Bank Contra Costa and SolanoOne-woman door-to-door campaign against hunger

March 11, 2009 - Diablo Magazine, writer Martha Ross

February - April 2009 - - Lemon Lady of Claycord


February 16, 2009 -, writer Andre' Gensburger

February 16, 2009 - Soccer Mom news blog, Local Hero: Clayton Woman

January 23, 2009 - The Clayton Pioneer Newspaper article, scroll to page 9

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

KGO Newstalk AM810 Radio, Bret Burkhart - March 18, 2009

Bret Burkhart: You never know when inspiration will strike.

Anna: My baby was kind of fussy, and she had colic. All the things that little babies go through.

Bret Burkhart: Like many new parents, Anna Chan tried an old trick to help calm her daughter Ava.

Anna: So we spent a lot of time in our car, with Ava in the carseat, driving around.

Bret Burkhart: And that's when it hit her, from the branches of trees around the neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.Anna: All the trees and the fruit ripening.

Bret Burkhart: Fruit that wasn't being picked.

Anna: So I typed a flyer. I put my flyer on the door.

Bret Burkhart: And the homeowner later invited her to pick lemons to donate to food banks.

Anna: The first house got me to the second house, got me to the third house. I think I'm fifty houses into it for collection.

Bret Burkhart: Fifty homes on a months time. And she's already donated 2,000 lbs. of fruit that would otherwise be considered a waste. It's earned her the nickname "The Lemon Lady of Claycord", but volunteers at the Salvation Army here in Concord say she's more than that.

Ray Bolin (cannot verify spelling): You're a life saver, you really are.

Bret Burkhart: Ray Bolin tells Anna her impact is immeasurable.

Ray Bolin: You were concerned about whether or not we were going to be able to hand out the product you were bringing. And remember I told you that it would be gone by the next day? It was gone.

Anna: And it was.

Ray Bolin: It was gone.
Ray Bolin: With the way the situation is and a lot of people not having jobs, they're turning more to the charity organizations. But it's people like you that are helping to bring in the donations. We've already met last months goal. Last months goal we did two hundred thirty seven individual families. We're already at two hundred fifty seven families! In two weeks!

Anna: We're only half way into the month!

Ray Bolin: That's correct, and that's why you're a life saver!

Bret Burkhart: But it's her hope that her efforts will inspire others to make a difference.

Anna: Get up and do something!

Ray Bolin: You help somebody and then in turn that person is going to help somebody else.

Anna: Just become inspired! We can be the person that makes the change.

In Concord, Bret Burkhart, KGO radio news.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Diablo Magazine writer, Martha Ross - March 11, 2009

The Lemon Lady of Contra Costa
Stay-at-home Clayton mom devises simple but clever do-it-herself idea for getting fresh fruit into the hands of our community's hungry.
By Martha Ross

Courtesy of Radar at

Anna Chan is one of those simply kind, thoughtful people who goes out of her way to help other people.
I first heard about her via two of my favorite local East Bay bloggers, and Mister Writer. She was involved in some personal advocacy on behalf of a young girl, Katie Grace Groebner, who suffers from pulmonary hypertension, ultimately requiring a heart and lung transplant.
Anna, busy herself with a very active 2-year-old daughter, Ava, helped Katie Grace by drafting more than 50 letters to media outlets, nonprofits, and businesses. She managed to garner donations of tickets and passes to fun kids’ activities such as tickets to the Oakland Zoo.
Now, Anna has a new one-mom, one-daughter project, and it seeks to benefit the growing number of people in our area who need food assistance in these tough economic times. She started out by leaving letters at the homes of people in and around Clayton, asking them if they have trees bearing ripe fruit that they can spare. In her letter, Anna says “I often drive past your house on my way to Grandma’s and notice your fruit trees are filled with a healthy crop. I am wondering if you will be harvesting all the fruit for your own family. Or would you be so kind to pick a few bags for me to deliver to local food pantries. They appreciate fruit donations."
Anna, with some toddler-style help from Ava, also offers to come pick your fruit herself. Of course, sometimes Ava begs off with a nap, and "Daddy or Grandma" sit in the car with Ava while Anna gathers the fruit.
"The other day, we all went out as a family," she e-mailed me. "After lunch, Ava fell asleep, so I knew of a house close by where I already had permission to pick the oranges and lemons. Daddy sat in the car and read a book. Ava slept. And, I picked 50 pounds of fruit! It was easy. It's always thrilling when I meet new people and they are so kind and generous. That is what makes the world a better place."
Anna then donates it to local nonprofits, including to the Monument Crisis Center in Concord and the Salvation Army at the Concord Community Church.
After several weeks in operation, the Anna/Ava project has gathered more than 1,000 pounds of fruit. Anna has also begun sending some letters out the neighborhoods in Walnut Creek's Ygnacio Valley. "Last night, I received my very first reply from a Walnut Creek resident," she emailed me the other day.
If you have some extra fruit hanging on backyard or frontyard trees that you don’t know what to do with, you can send Anna an e-mail. She can be can be reached