At the peak of fruit tree harvest season, it’s hard to walk down some neighborhood streets without getting thumped in the head by a falling apricot or plum. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but throughout summer and fall, the Wasatch Front is rich with trees heavily laden with choice produce. In fact, there is such an abundance of ripe riches that the prosperity creates a problem. Often homeowners either cannot utilize the bounty, or they dislike the sludgy mess of fruit that has fallen in their yards. Food goes to waste, or, unfortunately, homeowners may choose to remove the perceived nuisance.
A few years ago, creative minds in SLC’s Division of Sustainability and the Environment teamed up with the Food Policy Task Force and designed SLCgreen-Fruit Share, a program through which fruit harvested from private properties gets allocated to people who can benefit from nature’s bounty. “You can’t turn down a city block in Salt Lake City without seeing fruit on the ground,” Sustainability Program Manager Bridget Stuchly says, “so we started this program to start getting that fresh produce into the hands of people who need it, and to help homeowners take care of these trees so they are not tempted to take them out.”
The harvest is divided into thirds among homeowners, food assistance programs and volunteer fruit-pickers. Property owners also benefit from volunteers’ pruning and thinning the fruit trees on their property. But the primary goal of the program, Bridget notes, “is to get rid of food waste and get it into the hands of people who could use it.”
Homeowners register their trees online through the slc.gov website. Avenues resident Melaney Birdsong Farr has registered her apple, plum and pear trees. “It’s a fantastic idea,” she says. “The extra fruit goes to community-based projects. Otherwise, the fruit usually ends up in the backyard and I don’t feel very good about it.”
City partner organizations then coordinate both volunteer fruit-picking opportunities and distribution. The program partners list is comprised of organizations well-rooted in the community. TreeUtah, Avenues Fruitshare, Green Urban Lunchbox, Utahns Against Hungers’ Real Food Rising and Salt Lake Community Action Program all participate in assessing community need, organizing volunteer events and transporting produce. SCLgreen-Fruit Share always needs volunteers, as more trees are added to the register every week. Registration is processed online, and volunteers under 18 require parental or youth group leader supervision.
“We all need to eat; food is common to us all,” says Real Food Rising Director, Mike Evans. “We want to help people who have lower incomes have access to healthy, organic food, and to help bridge those gaps when possible. We take a lot of the produce to Hildegard’s Food Pantry, Salt Lake Cap Northwest and the Community Action Program,” he adds. Real Food Rising, and their team of fruit-picking volunteers harvested 10,000 pounds of fruit last year.
Shawn Peterson is the Executive Director for Urban Green Lunch Box. Shawn too is dedicated to making sure that community members receive quality sustenance. “We don’t like to give damaged fruit to food banks because it’s kind of a degrading experience if all you get is seconds. We like to always give the prime best fruit,” he says. “We use the damaged or misshapen fruit for our ‘Value Added Program’ and make syrups, jams and chutneys. These are sold at farmers markets and all proceeds go back to fund the program.”
An additional goal that The Green Urban Lunch Box shares with the SLCgreen-FruitShare program is to care for the trees along the Wasatch Front. “We want to make the program self-sustaining,” Shawn says. Thus, they have launched a pilot program in which they provide tree-owners with “all the tools, liability insurance, and volunteer recruitment, and we just pick up the fruit,” he says.
Real Food Rising, Utahans Against Hunger and The Green Urban Lunch Box have helped the SLCgreen-Fruit Share program expand their reach beyond Salt Lake City limits. Real Food Rising now branches out into Salt Lake County, and The Green Urban Lunch Box extends their services into southern Davis County.