You may have wondered how so many picks get organized to harvest the abundance of fruit in Toronto. Well, Marc is Not Far From the Tree’s extraordinary Picking Coordinator! Marc joined Not Far From the Tree in 2009 and we gave a brief introduction here. We thought it was about time that we check in. It was such a pleasure to interview Marc as he conjured up so many beautiful images of sitting in trees (eating apples and people watching, gorging on cherries, and taking in panoramic views).
Avery: How long have you been working with Not Far From the Tree?
Marc: This is my fourth season.
A: How has your position evolved since you’ve been working for Not Far From the Tree?
M: It has become more complex. One of the things I find stimulating is how multi-faceted the challenges are. Not only do I have to do quite a bit of emailing, I’ve got to lead picks and problem solve. Various things happen on picks: equipment is missing, Gleaners aren’t showing up, the tree isn’t there, the homeowners have no ladders and they said there would be . . . so there’s a lot of things that need to be clarified and that’s just on the pick side. There’s a lot of managing of Gleaner, Supreme Gleaner, and homeowner expectations as to what Not Far From the Tree does, what it is that we are delivering, and what we stand for. And so quite often during the year, I explain why not everyone can get on a pick. And then I point out that sometimes picks don’t get filled at all — usually crabapple picks. Nobody wants to pick crabapples. Poor crabapples.
A: What do you do when you’re not working at Not Far From the Tree?
M: It’s all I think about . . . actually, I do have dreams that I’m late for picks and that I’m getting phone calls.
Apart from Not Far From the Tree, especially in the winter months, I’m a full-time musician. I sing professionally in a few choirs around town: The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, The Elora Festival Singers, and an a cappella pop quartet. I also teach beginning piano and beginning voice to just over twenty youngsters.
I sing. I teach.
A: What has been your most memorable experience with Not Far From the Tree?
M: That’s really hard. Ok, I’ll give you a few. This past Monday I led a pick were we picked over 400lbs of apples. I’m not sure if that’s a record or not. We picked so much that Sagatay didn’t want any more. They’re a donation recipient. They said, “We’ll take a few bags, but we don’t want the rest. And by the way, we don’t want apples for the rest of the week.” So I just distributed them to another organization. That was cool.
I remember picking an apple tree at Crawford and College St. It was really interesting because there was a café at the corner and on the terrace was an apple tree. It was really random, but it was a beautiful patio. We picked a lot of apples from it. Usually picking fruit is a very private affair because you’re in someone’s backyard or a quiet neighbourhood/residential street. This was right on College, so it was so public and everyone was staring at what we were doing. They were stopping and asking us questions.
I also did a 7am pick. I don’t know why. I must’ve had some commitment after that. I had four volunteers come out and we picked cherries. It was early in the morning, it had just rained, the sun came out . . . it was beautiful.
So those are some of my highlights.
A: Do you find you’re still doing a lot of picks?
M: I have to just because I feel guilty when trees go unpicked and the only reason is because I can’t find someone to lead the pick. Sometimes, I have to swallow my pride and say, “I can’t,” but sometimes I’m stubborn and I say, “I don’t care how busy I am, I must pick this tree!”
A: What continues to inspire you?
M: I like a challenge and a stressful environment. I put a lot of pressure on myself to pick as many of these trees as possible. I’m disappointed when they’re not picked.
A: What does urban agriculture or urban food mean to you?
M: It depends on what level you’re looking at. One of the great things about Not Far From the Tree is that it means so many different things to different people. For some it means food security, for some it means less waste, for some it means community engagement, for some it’s strictly a social opportunity, for some it’s feeling like they’re giving back to the community . . . so in a small way it’s a microcosm of urban agriculture. Not Far From the Tree provides an option for people who want to get engaged with this big generic thing called urban agriculture.
A: What was your relationship with fruit trees growing up?
M: I’ve got some good memories. I recall sitting in trees. I had an uncle who lived in Poland who had a beautiful cherry tree. We used to go visit him in the summertime . . . I don’t remember much about the house, but I remember this cherry tree. I remember sitting in this tree and eating cherries voraciously. I’d sit up there for an hour and just eat. And then take a break. Sit. It was a rural area, so I would just sit and take in the panoramic views, then eat a little more. I’d have to ask my parents, but I think I might’ve fallen out of the tree too. My parents, here in Toronto, had a crabapple tree in their front yard and I used to sit in it and eat the apples and watch people walk by.
A: What is your favourite fruit to pick?
M: I like picking cherries because I like eating them at the same time.
A: What is the most interesting thing that you made with your fruit and who did you share it with?
M: In the first season that I started I did a lot of preserving of apples and crabapples. We made some crabapple jelly, some applesauce and some simple jarred pears and we gave them as gifts to Supreme Gleaners at our end of year celebration. I just like that the staff had a hand in making that and that we could show our appreciation to the Supreme Gleaners.
A: If you could have one fruit tree in your yard, what would it be?
M: I was at a Supreme Gleaner’s house just a few weeks ago because he was generously offering his garage for one of our bikes and he had a fig tree. It was amazing. So I would try that. I do want cherry trees too.
A: Overall, what drives your to help Not Far From The Tree?
M: I love sharing with gleaners the exhilaration of climbing and sitting in fruit trees.