The Northwest is home to a lot of fruit trees. But beyond the well-tended orchard rows of apples and pears – there’s an urban fruit jungle just waiting to be harvested.
City Fruit is a Seattle-based nonprofit with a tiny operating budget ($40,000/year) and a lot of work on their hands. The organization brings together volunteers to harvest trees on privately-owned land (with the owner’s permission) at 250 sites around the city. Then the fruit — from apple, pear and fig trees mainly — is distributed to 38 donation sites including homeless shelters, food banks and after school youth programs.
“It’s taking something that would otherwise be wasted and turning it into a nutritious source for the hungry,” says Betsy Moyer, the City Fruit coordinator for West Seattle.
This past summer the organization harvested about 17,000 pounds of fruit. That’s a big jump from last year’s numbers. Moyer says interest is growing.
“We get about two requests a day in high harvest season,” Moyer says. The group isn’t taking on any more harvest opportunity this year but welcomed fruit tree owners to get in touch for next season.
City Fruit doesn’t have any paid employees. It’s mainly volunteers with a couple of contractors, like Moyers, who organize and coordinate the work in different neighborhoods. This is the first year the group has harvested in West Seattle.
Dusty Towler is a regular picker for City Fruit. He’s a landscaper and gardener with rosy cheeks and curly hair. As he clambers around an apple tree in West Seattle, he looks like he’d be just as comfortable in a treetop Ewok village.
“I’m tucking the apple picker right up under the apple and hopefully I can nestle the little hooks right next to the stem,” he explains as he reaches a long wooden pole with a basket on the end up to the highest branches to get a cluster of big red apples.
“Once I heard the concept I had to get involved. How often do you go around town and see fruit that doesn’t get picked and just hits the ground and rots? Normally we think nothing of it but I started realizing that’s great food,” Towler says. “I want to make this world a better place and this is a good place to start, by feeding everybody. There’s so much to spare, everybody should have a fruit tree in their yard.”
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