Not Far from the Tree

A Toronto or­ga­ni­za­tion has an in­ge­nious sys­tem for con­nect­ing ur­ban­ites to con­ser­va­tion and to one an­other. And there’s free fruit for ev­ery­one!

Canadian Wildlife - - LOCAL HERO - Photo by Juan Luna

With the ar­rival of au­tumn, farm­ers’ and gar­den­ers’ thoughts turn to bring­ing in the har­vest. In fields and or­chards across Canada fruit is ripen­ing. In cities too, fruit trees are groan­ing with bounty. Yet so many ur­ban home­own­ers or ten­ants gather noth­ing from their trees. The re­sult is the waste of fresh — and free — pro­duce, and mushy yards strewn with rot­ting fruit at­tract­ing ver­min and pests. Over time, some ex­as­per­ated home­own­ers re­sort to re­mov­ing the trees, de­stroy­ing a pre­cious re­source.

Just over a decade ago, in cities and towns across Canada, “fruit tree” projects started to ap­pear in re­sponse, al­most or­gan­i­cally. In Toronto in 2008, Not Far from the Tree was started by a young woman named Laura Reins­bor­ough who had re­cently earned her mas­ter’s in En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and was in­ter­ested in the is­sue of food se­cu­rity. Per­haps the re­sult of some vari­a­tion on Isaac New­ton’s ap­ple-in­duced eureka mo­ment, Reins­bor­ough twigged to the idea that there was fruit to share that was go­ing to waste. In that first year, work­ing only in her own neigh­bour­hood, she and the scores of vol­un­teers she had re­cruited, col­lected 1,400 kg from 40 prop­er­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Sue Arndt, who has been run­ning it since 2015, the key as­pect of Not Far from the Tree is the divvy­ing up of the fruits of this labour. The har­vest is split three ways: one third to the home­owner; a third to the vol­un­teer pick­ers, and a third to a com­mu­nity kitchen, shel­ter, food­bank or sim­i­lar agency lo­cated nearby.

The num­bers are im­pres­sive: 70,000 kg of fruit har­vested, nearly 20,000 kg pro­vided to more than 35 lo­cal so­cial ser­vice agen­cies, more than 1,600 trees reg­is­tered, 2000-plus vol­un­teers wran­gled to help with the har­vest.

Pick­ing sea­son that be­gins with cher­ries in June and goes to ap­ples in Oc­to­ber (with ser­vice­ber­ries, apri­cots, pears, grapes and quince along the way). In a busy year, they do 450 picks in five months. There is a tonne of lo­gis­tics be­hind it: there are 11 cargo bikes garaged around the city, equipped with all the nec­es­sary gear, ready to be picked up by key vol­un­teers (or as they call them, “supreme glean­ers”) and a ro­bust web-based por­tal for com­mu­ni­cat­ing with tree own­ers and vol­un­teers, dis­patch­ing help when and where needed.

It is a bril­liant re­sponse to sev­eral ur­ban chal­lenges si­mul­ta­ne­ously, ad­dress­ing the lack of fresh fruit in “food deserts,” ed­u­cat­ing and in­spir­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture while fos­ter­ing and deep­en­ing con­nec­tions among of­ten re­mote ur­ban neigh­bours. “Our most fruit­ful neigh­bour­hoods,” says Arndt, “have long his­to­ries of im­mi­grants from parts of the world where hav­ing fruit-bear­ing trees was a given. All th­ese years later we all still ben­e­fit from those tra­di­tions.”a

It is a re­sponse to sev­eral ur­ban chal­lenges si­mul­ta­ne­ously: ad­dress­ing the lack of fresh fruit in ur­ban “food deserts,” ed­u­cat­ing and in­spir­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture, and fos­ter­ing and deep­en­ing con­nec­tions among of­ten-re­mote city neigh­bours

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