Rick Ketcheson and Brenda Blair inspect some apples nearly ready for harvesting in Blair’s backyard.

Seeds of fruit project waiting to be planted

As Ocean Park orchard lays down roots, food activist sees new opportunity.

A White Rock food activist is trying to grow support for a program to harvest unpicked fruit from backyard trees and share it with the community.

“We need someone or a group of people to come forward and set up a means where we could recover food, particularly from fruit trees,” said Rick Ketcheson, co-chair of the Surrey-White Rock Food Action Coalition. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a couple of years of work to get something like this up and running.”

The concept has already taken root in other communities like Vancouver, Richmond and Langley, but no such program exists in Surrey or White Rock.

Ketcheson said there’s an abundance of fruit in the Semiahmoo Peninsula that’s being left on trees for a variety of reasons.

“The incentive for the owner is people come and pick the fruit, some of it is left for the owner, and of the remainder some goes to food banks, some maybe goes to the people who do the work.”

Ketcheson said the first step would be to organize people wanting to lead such an initiative here, and then identify all the available food sources in the area. He said many small fruit tree sharing networks exist in the community already – sharing between neighbours, for example – which a larger program could build on. Excess fruit also present opportunities for social enterprises, he said.

“There’s many different ways to use the bounty that we’ve got.”

Such a program could also link with a planned community orchard in Ocean Park, which Surrey council recently approved. Area residents and members of local community groups came up with the idea for the small orchard in a passive grassy area of Ocean Park Terrace Park at 12815 22 Ave. Planting of two dozen fruit trees and shrubs – bearing pears, plumbs, apples, cherries and figs – is expected to begin this fall.

Various models exist for fruit-gleaning programs. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project, for example, donates fruit picked from backyard trees to community centres, neighbourhood houses, daycares and other community causes. The Langley Community Harvest program shares its fruit with volunteers, homeowners and food banks.

“It’s good healthy food that’s right there waiting to be used,” said Ava Shannon, who co-ordinates the Langley program through the Langley Environmental Partners Society. “If it doesn’t get harvested, not only is it wasted, but it ends up creating problems with pests and making a mess for the homeowner. It really is one of those logical things to do – people need it, and people have it, and it won’t get used otherwise.”

Shannon maintains a registry of trees around Langley and surrounding areas – including some trees in White Rock. At the start of the season she reminds property owners to contact her at least a week before their fruit is ready. Once notified, she dispatches volunteers, who get to share one-third of the harvest.

“The volunteers appreciate getting something out of the exchange. I think that makes it really appealing to a lot of them.”

The property owner also gets one third of the fruit – if they want it – and the remainder is donated to food banks and a Langley shelter.

Shannon said the popularity of the program, which is funded by United Way, continues to grow.

“This year has been totally blowing the numbers away,” she said. “It’s been a really busy year.”

Volunteers have harvested more than 2,000 kilograms of fruit already this year, and three-quarters have been donated to charity. That’s nearly double the figure from the entire harvest last year.

Shannon said there’s numerous reasons why property owners aren’t picking all the fruit their trees bear.

“Sometimes people have inherited a tree. They buy a property and it has a fruit tree on it, and they don’t really have a use for it, or maybe they’re elderly and they’re not able to harvest the fruit, or it’s just more than they can use.”

White Rock resident Brenda Blair has three well-established fruit trees in her backyard – one apple tree dates to the 1970s. Volunteers from the Langley program have harvested her fruit in the past. She’s also shared it with others, including a jam producer she met at the local market.

“I don’t want to get up on a ladder anymore,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. Every day you have to get out there – you don’t want it to rot.”

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