One late summer day last year I led a pick of two neighbouring apple trees. I had led a number of other picks throughout the summer and there was limited harvest from each of the trees: one lost most of the apples the night before in a storm and another tree had most of it’s harvest above the third story of the house—out of our reach, even with picking poles. So I was really excited to have the opportunity to pick two accessible neighbouring trees!
The gleaners showed up one by one and we waited on the sidewalk until everyone arrived and I could direct them around the back of the house. The trees were located in the backyard of a row house, so there was no alley to access the house from the front without all of us traipsing through the homeowner’s house. We made our way around the block and through the jungle of garages and pavement to the backyard.
I was lucky to have such an eager group of volunteers that day, and willing homeowners. Once we had the orientation and got set up, there were volunteers everywhere—on the third floor balcony, climbing to the top of the tree and climbing over the neighbours’ fence (I’m sure this is a common experience for many of you volunteers!). We had a blast and got to utilize all of the new picking equipment, including a harvesting bag that one wears like a backpack or “frontpack.” Most of my picks that year were under 50lbs, but at this pick, in under an hour and half, the whole lot of us collected 200lbs of fruit! We excitedly divided up the fruit between the volunteers and the community organization. The homeowners, who lived around the corner from PARC (Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre), were eager to support their local organization and gave up their share for them.
Once we got all the apples loaded into the cargo bike, I was a bit worried about riding the cargo bike since I wasn’t yet used to the balance with a heavy load. I slowly inched my way out of the garage with the cargo full of picking gear and apples, testing my balance with the new load. A few volunteers were on their way home watched me in the alley as I slowly kicked my way along, not yet committing to the ride. Finally, I put my feet to the pedals and went on my way. What a rush it was with all of the apples in the bin, loaded up and headed to PARC.
My momentum slowed a bit as I turned the corner out onto Sorauren and then made my way onto Queen Street West. It was a short ride, but a few of the volunteers who had just picked up their kids drove by waving and cheering along the delivery of all of our hard work. My excitement grew; I crossed the street and walked my bike in front of the building, peeking my head in the door to flag someone down—anyone. A few people standing outside watched me as I placed my foot on the cargo bike kickstand and struggled to pull it backward onto the stand. Three staff came to greet me and I showed them all the bags of apples that the volunteers and I picked. One by one, they brought them inside and returned the cloth bags for future Not Far from the Tree use.
My excitement about the initiatives of Not Far from the Tree stems from my desire to support local food as well as to support local community organizations. It is especially fabulous that through the support of all the volunteers and staff of Not Far From the tree, community organizations throughout Toronto have the opportunity to share the harvest of food from their own neighbourhoods. In my posts and throughout the summer and fall, I will be exploring and interviewing various people who work at these community organizations (such as PARC) to see how they use the fruit that we give them and I will be asking them how they see the partnership with Not Far from the Tree. I hope that through these interviews, all those who are involved with Not Far from the Tree can see a bit of the bigger picture.