A dedicated group of urban foragers in Toronto are on hand to make sure surplus fruit doesn’t just fall to the sidewalks.

On a recent jaunt along the streets of Toronto, I noticed in a couple of neighbourhoods (the Annex and Little Italy) where houses had many apple and cherry trees. I thought, how lucky to have the convenience of being able to pick fresh fruit just outside your doorstep. Who wouldn’t love to have either of those trees in my backyard? But given the lack of space in my own, that doesn’t seem likely.

Although it was nice to see so many fruit trees in such an urban setting (an urban forager’s dream), the majority of the apples and cherries were littered on the pavement and streets. The fruit was still in pretty good condition (I ate an apple from the ground – sour, but good), while some were bruised and some were rotting. But all I could think of was the amount of pies, cider, jam, etc one could have made with all of those apples and cherries. And this is what I spotted on three streets. Toronto is a huge metropolis (it’s Canada’s largest city); think of the vast amount of fruit trees that have gone unharvested throughout the whole city. That’s a lot of edible food wasted.

Luckily, this very same thought was running through Laura Reisnborough’s mind, the brainchild behind Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT), an organisation I came across a few years ago. Interim Project Director, Danielle Goldfinger, says that back in 2007, Laura was asked to organise an apple harvest at Spadina Museum and from that experience of picking fruit she was immediately drawn to it. It was then she realised that Toronto had “both an abundance of fruit trees longing to be harvested, and an abundance of enthusiastic people eager to pick local fruit. From there, Not Far From The Tree was born.”

When homeowners find they are overwhelmed with their fruit or nut bounty, they can contact NFFTT. Volunteers are sent to pick the glut which is then split three ways: one third to the tree owner, one third to the volunteers, and one third is donated and delivered by bike to neighbouring food banks, community kitchens, and shelters. Thus, all parties benefit from these pickings and the food is diverted from waste.

According to NFFTT’s website, an astounding 21,617 pounds of fruit have been picked so far this year from 342 trees. With a focus on fruit and nut trees, the organisation picks over a dozen varieties (some of which you may have never heard of) including sweet cherries, sour cherries, elderberries, mulberries, ginkgo, apples, crabapples, pears, walnuts, pawpaws, apricots, plums, sumac, and quince. It’s an impressive feat considering NFFTT began with picking just over 3,000 pounds of fruit from 40 trees in 2008.

The organisation itself has minimal staff and relies heavily on volunteers, which Danielle says can be challenging, yet rewarding. “We’ve been exceptionally lucky to have so many enthusiastic and passionate volunteers who’ve helped us grow. Not Far From The Tree is truly a community building project – we just use fruit as the mechanism to bring people together.”

Currently, the organisation operates in 15 of Toronto’s 44 wards (electoral); the long-term goal is to operate in all of them. With such a tremendous amount of support from the community, it’s bound to happen sooner rather than later.

With food waste becoming a major concern worldwide, we need to start changing our wasteful behaviour – and that can start right in your own (or someone else’s) backyard. Though it will be some time, I look forward to when the orchards I helped plant in London Fields a year ago with the Hackney Council and the London Fields User Group mature and start producing fruit, for example. Similarly, Not Far From The Tree not only engages citizens to pick and share local fruit, it creates an environment where both the private and public merge and connect. And there’s something truly magical and inspiring in that.

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