Healdsburg Hotels Team Up with Celebrity Chef Duskie Estes for Hands-On Harvest Experience

Guests at three local hotels can dig in and work as a “gleaner,” harvesting extra or leftover produce for people in need.

After months of sheltering in place, the pandemic fatigue is settling in and many of us are craving a remedy. For those who are considering venturing outside of their (literal) backyard for a change of scenery, a close-to-home staycation could be a good start.

Three hotel properties in Healdsburg are now tempting visitors with a unique experience that also offers an opportunity to give back to the community. Hotel Healdsburg, h2hotel, and Harmon Guest House have teamed up with celebrity chef Duskie Estes and Sonoma County nonprofit Farm to Pantry to offer guests the chance to dig in and work as a “gleaner,” harvesting extra or leftover produce for people in need.

Estes, who has starred on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and Guy’s Grocery Games, recently swapped her chef’s whites for mud boots as the new executive director of Farm to Pantry. The nonprofit works with volunteers to harvest excess produce from local farms, orchards and even backyards — up to 13,000 pounds of produce a week. After being picked, cleaned, sorted and boxed, the produce is delivered to more than 70 locations throughout Sonoma County that supply food to people in need.

“We pick in the first half of the day and deliver in the second,” said Estes. “It feels like being Robin Hood, but it (the produce) was given in the first place.”

If it grows in Sonoma County, Farm to Pantry has probably gleaned it. From kiwis, persimmons and squash to cabbage, figs, and walnuts, the non-profit has gleaned more than 300 tons of fruits, vegetables, and nuts since October 2008. That’s the equivalent of more than two-and-a-half million servings of healthy, local food.

“Farming is such a big part of Sonoma County life. Through our partnership with Farm to Pantry we can give our guests the opportunity to connect hands in and outdoors,” said Piazza Hospitality founder, Circe Sher.

Rain or shine, Farm to Pantry volunteers work year-round in local farm fields. Gleaning sessions typically run from 9 a.m. to around noon, with the possibility of spending a little extra time to see where the rescued produce ends up by taking part in a community drop-off.

There’s no cost for hotel guests to glean with Farm to Pantry, but visitors can turn their volunteer experience into a full day event with an exclusive cooking class and lunch prepared by Estes on her farm. It costs $2,000 for up to 10 guests, with 75 percent of proceeds going to support Farm to Pantry.

If you’re not ready to plan a Healdsburg staycation, you can still volunteer to glean with Farm to Pantry. Sign up on the nonprofit’s website to get emails with weekly gleaning schedules and needs.

“Nothing feels better than working together outside and giving back. It’s win wins all the way around,” said Estes.