Fruit spared, abundance shared

Fruit spared, abundance shared
by Tracey L. Anderson


Fruit trees and shrubs bloom in yards all over Edmonton in the spring. Their beautiful blossoms are signs of hope, signs that fresh local fruit, everything from apples and apricots to pears and cherries, will be ready to eat in just a few months’ time.

Sadly, though, too much of that juicy, delicious homegrown fruit never gets into people’s mouths. It falls to the ground and rots, or it gets thoughtlessly tossed away if homeowners can’t or don’t harvest it. Thankfully, Fruits of Sherbrooke and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton have recognized that this unharvested bounty can help feed the growing number of hungry people in our city—they have come to the fruit’s rescue to save and share the otherwise wasted abundance.

Fruits of Sherbrooke

Carol Cooper, Christina Piecha and Alan Cosh were tired of seeing apples from neighbours’ trees in the trash. “We should do something about all the waste. People are hungry in our city,” said Christina one evening in 2010 as their local gardening group walked down an alley. The three partners started Fruits of Sherbrooke, a not-for-profit society, to connect volunteer pickers with homeowners who needed assistance to harvest their fruit.

Carol sums up their mission: “No fruit wasted. No fruit forgotten.” They donate rescued fruit to local families and partner organizations such as the Hope Mission, the Mosaic Centre and the culinary arts program at Jasper Place High School. They also create flavourful products to support their work and to show people that they can make good things with neglected fruit. All their products are made with at least 60 per cent rescued fruit.

Christina calls Carol the chef and creative genius behind their unique products such as the best-selling chipotle rhubarb ketchup and ginger pear, tarragon crab apple and chocolate cherry jellies. Carol supervises about five people who work several days a week in their rented kitchen at Westmount Community League. The group offers jam-making classes to teach others how to use their own fruit or the rescued fruit.

Fruits of Sherbrooke also gratefully accepts donations from British Columbia fruit vendors and The Organic Box. Owners Danny and Miranda Turner are happy to contribute.

“Fruit rescue operations are important because they see the connection between food shortages and food waste, and they do something about it,” says Miranda. “They turn a sad situation—seeing beautiful fruit turn to mush—into a positive experience.”

Each year Fruits of Sherbrooke rescues more fruit. In 2014, they shared about 15,000 kilos of mostly apples, rhubarb, saskatoons, raspberries, sour cherries and pears; sometimes they also rescue things that people may be surprised to find here: apricots and hairless kiwis.

Last year Fruits of Sherbrooke delivered several kilograms of rescued apples to the Mosaic Centre, a charity that helps people dealing with poverty, hunger and homelessness. “We are grateful for the work that they do,” says Linda Deveau, director. “Many individuals go without fresh fruit due to life circumstances and the high cost of produce.”

Unfortunately, volunteers, money and transportation remain challenges as well as what to do with the apples. Most community groups need eating apples, but the majority of the rescued apples are cooking apples. Since many organizations don’t have kitchen facilities, they can’t take advantage of the available cooking apples, which causes frustration for Fruits of Sherbrooke. This year’s goal is to develop a system for turning the apples into apple chips or applesauce to help inner city soup kitchens and school lunch programs. Carol says, “We are looking for someone to sponsor and run it. This is good food that will feed people. We need someone to provide the facility and knowledge and the funding.” They hope to develop a partnership with a school or other organization.

Carol, Christina and Alan have never made a penny from the significant time and energy they dedicate to fruit rescue. The money from product sales covers only mileage and expense reimbursement, and they don’t receive funding. What they lack in funding, though, they make up for in passion and purpose. Christina says that the rewards they receive in return are “the sense of community and help we give. We hope we have created awareness around an important local food issue.”

Despite the commitments and challenges, Fruits of Sherbrooke will continue to rescue Edmonton fruit. Christina says, “There’s a lot of people not getting fresh food. There’s no need for that. Especially somewhere like here, where there’s so much.”

Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton

One afternoon in 2009, during a group discussion over potluck about the desire to do something local and use traditional skills, Jessica Roder suggested forming a fruit rescue organization. Amy Beaith and others offered to help build it. They modelled OFRE after Toronto’s Not Far From the Tree and Victoria’s Fruit Tree Project. In 2013, OFRE incorporated as a non-profit society with a mission to “mobilize volunteers to harvest, process, and preserve local fruit [to] get the fruit in the hands, mouths, and minds of people… by fostering community involvement and knowledge sharing.”

Mike Johnson, Amy’s husband and OFRE president since 2014, says fruit rescue means “minimizing food waste and providing a service to homeowners to pick their trees and redistribute the fruit throughout the city.” OFRE keeps 25 per cent of what they rescue for cider pressing and workshops. They give 25 per cent each to the homeowner, the pickers and charitable organizations such as Ronald McDonald House Charities Northern Alberta, Sorrentino’s Compassion House and The Mustard Seed Edmonton.

This year OFRE aims to double the paid membership base to about 200 so that they can double or triple the amount they pick and in turn feed more people. They hope someday to support their work by collecting enough to create a rescued-fruit cider with a local brewery.

The volume of fruit OFRE distributes to those in need grows annually. In 2014, they gathered over 2000 kilograms and anticipate collecting around 6000 this year if they meet their membership goal. But just as valuable is that “we’ve built a community. We’ve engaged Edmontonians in fruit rescue,” Mike says.

Last year Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton planted a micro-orchard of 50 trees at McCauley School. Non-fruit- bearing trees return nitrogen to the soil to feed the apple, pear and plum trees. The orchard, where grapes and kiwis were planted this spring, produces some of the fruit for cider pressing, pruning and preserving workshops and for donation. OFRE is excited about the orchard’s potential as “something that can live and grow and change over the years.”

Community-Based Fruit Rescue

Small community-based groups have also started finding ways to share fruit abundance with neighbours in their own communities. The Westend Food Hub Alliance, for example, started in late 2013 as a partnership of Jasper Place Wellness Centre, Trinity United Church, Jasper Place High School and WECAN Food Basket Society of Alberta.

But it’s not necessary to start an official group in order to ensure local fresh fruit doesn’t go to waste; homeowners who grow fruit they don’t harvest can donate it to a fruit rescue organization or to a charity on their own.

Fruit rescue is flourishing because urban food needs are growing, and people increasingly feel a responsibility to use available food productively rather than waste it. As more people understand that they can contribute fruit from their own yards to help meet the needs of others, fruit rescue in Edmonton will continue to expand. That means more of the fruit grown here will get from treetop to tabletop.

Tracey L. Anderson is an Edmonton freelance writer who loves fresh summer fruit—rescued or otherwise—preferably with a generous portion of whipped cream.