Health nuts can have their vegetables and play golf for a worthy cause at Zaca Creek Golf Course in Buellton on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, known locally as Veggie Rescue, is sponsoring a golf tournament, which starts at 9 a.m.

Terry and Holly Delaney founded Veggie Rescue in 2010 as a nonprofit after noticing a lack of fresh produce available at the Salvation Army in Santa Barbara, according to Amy Derryberry, executive director of the SYV-based organization.

“They rustled up some fresh produce and brought it down [to Salvation Army], and they were appreciative,” said Derryberry, who joined the group as a volunteer several years ago. “They started loading up the back of their pickup truck after the Solvang Farmers Market. That grew, and they began asking for volunteers.”

Soon, Veggie Rescue was delivering fresh produce to the Solvang Elementary School on Atterdag Road, thanks to support from Bethany Markee, who encouraged the group to get involved in the school’s lunch program, according to Derryberry.

Seven years later, Veggie Rescue has grown into a healthy organization that serves several Santa Ynez Valley schools, local senior centers and other groups throughout Santa Barbara County. Veggie Rescue works with 51 farmer-partners, dozens of donors and more than 30 recipient organizations, said the executive director.

Truck delivers visibility

The arrival of a $60,000, refrigerated delivery vehicle put Veggie Rescue on the road to feeding a larger group of residents, Derryberry said, noting the van was purchased thanks to a grant from the Orfalea Foundation.

“That raised us up to the next level in terms of capacity,” she said of the truck’s arrival. “At that point, we were still an all-volunteer organization. That was a game-changer for us. It elevated our capacity and increased our visibility. I drove the van for a year, and people would honk and wave when they’d see us driving by.”

Once the truck arrived, the organization found its services in greater demand, said Derryberry, who credits Santa Barbara County’s farmers with helping Veggie Rescue reach a wider footprint of residents.

“From a farmer’s perspective, this is really a service we’re offering,” she said. “Farmers are growing food because they want that food to be eaten. And the organizations we deliver to have a cost-benefit because they’re getting free, locally grown produce.”

Among groups Veggie Rescue serves, schools and senior centers stand out because fresh fruit and produce bring vital nutrients to children and their grandparents.

“Here in the Valley, we’re delivering to the Buellton and Solvang senior centers, People Helping People, Solvang Elementary School, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, The [Rona Barrett Foundation] Golden Inn & Village, Friendship House and Santa Ynez Valley Charter School.”

Derryberry, hired as Veggie Rescue’s full-time executive director in 2015, credits a grant from the deLaski Family Foundation for helping the organization expand its offerings by enabling it to hire two part-time drivers and an office assistant.

Veggie Rescue goes golfing

Derryberry’s voice resonates with excitement as she discusses the upcoming Veggie Rescue golf tournament at Zaca Creek in Buellton.

“We’ve had great support from the [golf course] owner,” she said, “he loves Veggie Rescue.”

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Zaca Creek course manager Mike Brown is also actively promoting the tournament, said Derryberry, who quickly switches to her favorite subject.

“Lettuce, chard, zucchini, strawberries, peaches, grapes, plums, peppers…. We’re literally delivering tons of tomatoes right now,” said Derryberry, citing an average 1,976 pounds of fresh produce delivered each week.

“Tutti Frutti [Farms] is giving us gorgeous heirloom tomatoes,” she said. “The way a farm works is, they grow more than they need so they’re never short. That’s favorable for Veggie Rescue because we get their excess.”

Without organizations like Veggie Rescue, most excess fruit and produce would be hauled off — at a cost to farmers — and dumped into piles for compost, the executive director explained.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Derryberry, “because we’re delivering food to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive it.”

With the increased demand for farm-to-table fresh fruits and vegetables, business is booming for Veggie Rescue.

“We’re collecting and delivering so much that we need a second truck,” Derryberry declared. “That’s a real exciting milestone.”

For seasoned golfers, it’s comparable to a hole in one.