Tucked into backyards or unnoticed on main streets, fruit and nut trees don’t always feed the people they grow around. On a warm August afternoon on Loretta Avenue North, a backyard apple tree filled many bags and buckets for the five volunteers harvesting it.
This apple tree is one of 42 trees that Hidden Harvest, an Ottawa organization promoting urban fruit and nut picking as well as planting, has permission to harvest.
Volunteers who wish to help harvest sign up online and indicate an area of the city where they’d like to work. Residents with fruit or nut trees on their property can register their trees to be harvested. When it’s time to pick the fruit from one of these registered trees, Hidden Harvest sends an online invitation – including a time and a place – to their volunteers who sign up if it’s convenient.
In the case of this Loretta Avenue apple tree, before picking apples from the tree volunteers filled four large yard bags with windfall. “It’s a shame we didn’t get to this tree sooner,” said Tina La Moine of Hintonburg. After taking a workshop with Hidden Harvest, La Moine is qualified to be a team leader, someone who brings the bags and boxes to the harvest site and instructs the other volunteers on picking protocol. Having been to a number of harvests, she’s also an expert at making apple sauce.
Once the initial windfall is collected, the team gets to work. Shonagh McCrindle of Sherbrooke Avenue is on her second tree and expertly wields the long poles with baskets that allow her to reach fruit high above her head. “I helped pick another apple tree on Bayswater last week and we collected 75 lbs,” says the nutrition graduate who loves local food and is planning to qualify as a team leader if she still has time once she starts her MBA.
Generally, when a tree is harvested, the bounty is divided in quarters among the homeowner, the volunteers, Hidden Harvest and an organization dedicated to providing food for the greater community. “We had more fruit than we could use last time, so we gave one third of it to the Parkdale Food Centre,” explains McCrindle.
Micheline Shoebridge and her daughter, ten-year-old Mia Kelly, live in Hull and are picking fruit with Hidden Harvest for the first time. “It’s really fun,” says Kelly who was first up the ladder. “I love the smell of the apples and the sound they make when you pick them.”
Matt Bicknell is studying culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu. His first harvest was a serviceberry tree right downtown in front of a condo. “They’re also called June berries and are similar to Saskatoon berries,” he says, remembering how people passing by were curious about the harvest but reluctant to sample fruit they didn’t know was edible. Bicknell made jam out of his share.
Along with the 42 registered trees on private property, Hidden Harvest has discovered through their research that there are 4000 edible fruit and nut trees on 20 % of City-owned land. With collaboration and education, this is an ultra-local harvest that is growing steadily more abundant.