Giving Harvest

Date Published: Sat, 01 Mar 2014

The Giving Harvest

It’s a glorious, balmy, 0 degree day today, and outside my window the trees are bending and swaying — being animated and stretched by today’s gusty wind. As I write from a cozy corner in my home, I remember that I owe much of my comfort to trees. From them, my house and barn have been constructed. I also owe to them the luxury of retreating from this winter’s biting cold into a warm home — which is of course heated with their bodies. I am grateful for their many gifts.

Apples at harvest time

Another less sacrificial gift that some trees have to offer will be highlighted this year by a new project starting up in Perth. Giving Harvest is a project spearheaded by Donna Silver, who moved to Perth from Ottawa only last year. It is inspired by a number of similar projects that have sprung up in North American cities and towns in the last decade — all of which aim to start making use of the abundant and unharvested fruit trees in our communities.

How many times have you come across a tree laden with fruit that is dropping to the  ground and rotting, and thought “if only I’d brought a ladder along with me on my walk today…” (well maybe even just a bag…). In the era of easy access to cheap food from far away, we seem to have collectively lost the skills, the will, or the inspiration, to harvest the free food that literally drops from the trees in our own area!

Wild and domesticated fruit trees have been harvested for centuries. It is only in recent decades that the value we give to such trees, in private and civic landscapes, has seemed to focus more on blossom beauty than on food value. In fact, today, fallen fruits are often considered simply a big nuisance, as we clean them up from yards and sidewalk surfaces.

Giving Harvest may help to change some perspectives. Last fall, Donna Silver plugged the idea of starting a “community orchard” at the Let’s Talk Resilience gathering (organized by Transition Perth — see note about Transition below). The orchard she envisions, however, is not a neat grid of fruit trees growing in tidy rows, but rather the latent and largely unnoticed fruit trees already present in yards and along the streets of Perth.

How it works: people will gather this spring to walk around town and talk to residents about the project. If anyone has a tree in their yard that they would like to add to the “orchard”, they will call Donna. And so a mapping process begins, of the trees offered to the community orchard. The trees involved can be growing either in civic or private spaces. Additional trees can be added on an ongoing basis to the map, as individuals present more trees to the project, and as new trees are planted in vacant or other appropriate spaces (like schoolyards, or where ash trees once were). Come harvest time the fruit is picked by brigades of volunteers and divided — approximately half to a community food centre (perhaps the Table, in this case), a quarter to the volunteer pickers, and a quarter to the owners (if it’s a tree in a backyard, for instance).

A great advantage for participating tree owners is that their trees will also get a free pruning. Everyone truly wins.

It’s easy to imagine a number of positive outcomes and possibilities stemming from this initial vision: schools and kids becoming involved, canning and preserving workshops at community kitchens, harvest parties, tree planting parties, and a heightened public understanding of the merits of fruit trees and the bounty they offer beyond beauty.

Workshops at the Perth Farmers’ Market and a tree sale in late summer are events Donna hopes to organize for this year, in addition to a map and harvest sessions. For a taste of a similar, already established project, check out Hidden Harvest <hiddenharvest.ca> — an Ottawa-based project that has been an inspiration to Donna.

One of the underlying assumptions of the Transition movement is that we can choose to act from a position of abundance and generosity, rather than dearth and competition; sharing our gifts freely with each other benefits communities rather than individuals.

Combining her skills in project start-up and management, with her creative vision (she’s an artist as well) and a passion for trees, Donna Silver is providing an example of this philosophy in action. Over the winter, she’s developed a plan for getting the project off the ground, and she is seeking various kinds of support from institutions such as RBC, the Table, Perth Community Foundation and the Town of Perth. This spring she’ll be seeking out people who are eager to contribute skills, ideas, labour, and spirit to the project.

Sound like a great idea? That’s because it is! And it sounds like a fun and compelling activity to participate in to boot. Want to know more or to volunteer? Have a tree in your yard you would like to add to the orchard? Want to contribute “seed money” for the project? Contact Donna at <donnasilver@mac.com> to know more and also to be added to the Giving Harvest email list.

Transition Towns

For those unfamiliar with the Transition Town movement… Transition Towns have sprung up around the globe in recent years, bringing a positive, proactive approach to navigating the economic and environmental challenges facing us. The aim of the Transition movement is to build resilient communities and individuals through positive, locally-appropriate, community-driven initiatives. Giving Harvest is one of many of these types of initiatives in Perth (check out transitionperth.ca for information on more of them).

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Humm profile by Susie Osler

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Profile | Info for Giving Harvest