’Tis the season where the branches of trees all over Vancouver flex under the weight of the fruits of their labour: Apples, figs, grapes, pears, plums, quince and even kiwis can all grow in great abundance on trees in our backyards, boulevards and parks. All of it is edible and most of it is mouth-wateringly delicious, but even in these times of food banks struggling to keep up with demand, so much of that healthy, ripe fruit falls to the ground and rots.
That’s where the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society (VFTP) comes in. Since 1999, this volunteer-run non-profit charitable society has dutifully gathered an army of 200+ volunteer pickers to spread out and harvest unwanted or unpicked fruit from Vancouver yards and parks. They then share the fruit with community centres, neighhourhood houses, shelters, daycares and assisted living facilities. Pretty amazing, eh?
We’re talking, on average, 4,000 pounds (or more than 1,800 kilograms) of perfectly edible fruit from Vancouver trees picked every summer. Harvey LaRochelle has been a volunteer fruit picker for 15 years. He read something about the society in the paper and has been volunteering ever since.
“It’s a mystery to many of the volunteers as to why people wouldn’t want their fruit,” says LaRochelle. “Some don’t like it that their apples have worm holes, so they say they’ll just buy apples at the store. Cut around the worm hole and that apple will still taste five times better than what’s in the store.”
Maddie Hague sits on the board for the VFTP and has been volunteering for a number of years. According to her, some backyard trees produce so much fruit that there’s no way the owners could eat it all. “There are so many healthy, fruit-bearing trees in Vancouver that we just can’t keep up,” she says. “We have over 150 tree owners in our database, and 30 picks on the wait list, but the problem is finding volunteer pick leaders. It’s about a four-hour commitment that involves organizing a vehicle, ladders and equipment.”
Because of the backup, the VFTP asks that if you want your tree harvested, make sure it’s heavy with fruit. “We just organized a pick, went to the place, and there was one single, solitary apple on the tree,” laments LaRochelle. “That was a big disappointment.” Luckily, all was not lost. LaRochelle knew of a strip of roadside apple trees on East 17th near Clark Drive. The crew boxed more than 300 apples in an hour.
“I love getting up into the branches of the trees,” says LaRochelle. “There’s a primal satisfaction I get when I’m picking fresh fruit from the high branches. And the fruit isn’t sprayed. It’s organic, healthy and tastes great.”
Hague agrees. “We recently visited a yard in Kits and boxed up over 500 pieces of fruit from an old tree. It’s absolutely incredible how abundant one tree can be, and how much a single tree can provide. It’s important that we not waste it.”
To harvest your unwanted fruit so it doesn’t go to waste, visit vancouverfruittree.com.