I have a confession: I’m a neglectful grapevine owner. My heritage house in Mount Pleasant came complete with a healthy grapevine that produces ridiculous amounts of grapes each fall. Every year I feel sick as I snack on a couple, and then promptly try to forget they exist. I’m just not a big grape person. But I am a big guilt person. Every neglected grape that drops unwanted makes me feel wretched; people are hungry in our city, and my back yard is full of fermenting grapes that don’t miraculously turn into wine.
Imagine my joy to discover there is actually an answer to my grape dilemma. It’s the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project: a group of volunteers with the simple mandate of “rescuing” unwanted fruit and re-distributing it to local charity organizations. Over the last 13 years, more than 35 thousand pounds of fruit have been rescued from Vancouver backyards.
Project coordinator Julia Thiessen explains: “This project makes everyone feel good. The volunteer pickers are people who want to help out, who believe in the importance of food security and who value the importance of local healthy food for all.”
Then there are the homeowners, like myself, who can’t manage their bumper crops. They also get to feel good knowing their fruit gets a good home. The charity organizations that receive the fruit “complete the circle,” says Thiessen. “The people who end up eating this organic fruit might not normally get an opportunity to eat fresh fruit.” It’s a three-way win.
Each year, more yards and trees join the project, which starts in June, weather depending. The Vancouver picking season usually begins with cherries and plums, and finishes with figs, pears, grapes and apples in late summer and early fall. They are never sure what they are going to harvest. “There are some surprises in people’s backyards,” says Thiessen. “People have different trees than you might normally expect to see, including heirloom varieties.” A quince tree has even joined the project.
The home orchardists are from all areas of the city. “There’s no set demographic,” says Thiessen. Some are people with trees simply too large and full of fruit to manage. Others are elderly, and can no longer harvest their own fruit. Then there are people like me who don’t have the slightest idea what to do with their fruit, but are happy to pass it along to someone who does.
When a tree is ready to harvest, the owner can contact the project coordinator who then works with a pick leader and volunteer pickers. The pickers bring ladders and picking equipment. If requested, they will leave a percentage of picked fruit for the homeowner.
After the fruit is picked, it’s delivered to charity organizations within Vancouver. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project has over a dozen community partners, including women’s shelters, seniors homes and neighbourhood houses.
The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project currently only services the city of Vancouver. The project is run by volunteers with one paid staff, so they are always grateful for donations from tree owners or the public. If you want to learn more about supporting the project, the canning workshops, or if you have a tree that needs picking, go to vancouverfruittree.com or follow them @vftp on Twitter.