Stories from a Tree Owner: From Waste Reduction to the Great Apple Crisp Bakeoff

Throughout the month of December, we’ve been posting interviews with stakeholders from three important groups: volunteers, neighbourhood agencies, and tree owners. This third and final interview is with tree owner Jim Harris. Jim has two very fruitful apple trees in his yard and has been sharing fruit with Not Far From The Tree since 2009.

Please share a memorable experience you have had with Not Far From The Tree.

Jim: The most abundant year we had 750 pounds of apples between our two trees, and Not Far From The Tree came in and picked one of the trees, collecting about 350 pounds. We were still left with another 400 pounds between the two trees so even that was pretty unmanageable. We ended up giving apples to everyone in our neighbourhood.

It’s overwhelming even just to deal with 400 pounds of apples so if we hadn’t had Not Far From The Tree, the apples would have gone to waste which is really the exciting story in my opinion about Not Far From The Tree. There are – Laura (Not Far From The Tree’s founder) always quotes the figure – about 1.5 million pounds of fruit in Toronto that is available that could go to waste every year unless it’s made use of.

For many homeowners, having a fruit tree is actually a hassle because fruit falls on their lawn and if you don’t know what to do with it, it’s just a nuisance. You have to spend time cleaning it all up and putting it in the green bin for the city to take away. But if it can be picked when it’s ripe, you can use it for good.

Can you give an example of what you did with your share of the fruit?

We’ve done many things. First off, we go around to all our neighbours and ask them if they bake, you know, whether they make pies or applesauce, or whether they make apple crisp. If they do, we ask them how many apples they want. We ask because we don’t want to just give people apples and then they don’t use them. And then we have guests to our home, and we send our guests away with a bag of apples, so we give the raw fruit to all our neighbours and friends and family.

The second thing we do is that we have all our employees here at the company create the Great Apple Crisp Bakeoff. Everyone brings in their own favourite apple crisp recipe and everyone makes one, either at home or at work, and then we all taste them and see which one we like the best. Somebody has to taste them all. It’s a rough job but somebody has to do it!

And then we make applesauce. The main reason we do applesauce is that it’s very freezable. This applesauce that we make is amazing. We bring it out at parties, we add lemon juice, maple syrup, and cinnamon, oh it’s fantastic. We bring it out at dinner parities as a homemade desert.

Why do you feel it is important for people to get engaged in their community?

It’s great for the volunteers that come, like the picks that people have done over the years. There have been kids involved and all sorts of volunteers who have not necessarily worked together before so it’s a fun experience. It’s making better use of the assets that we have in Toronto. Otherwise this fruit would go to waste so why waste it? It’s great that food banks get a third. It’s a solution that’s right here in our community so that’s fantastic.

We have more apples than we can deal with and we get help getting them picked and then the food banks get some and the volunteers too. They get to take some of these great apples home and they can do their own Apple Crisp Bakeoff.

Why is Not Far From The Tree an important organization?

It’s great to see an opportunity and to create a service that not only helps the homeowner, but also helps food banks, builds local community, and builds ties amongst the volunteers.

I love it when the kids come with their parents to do the picking because the kids think, “Oh this is where my food comes from.” It’s increasing the understanding about modern food systems. It increases food security because if we ever stopped having an import of fruits and vegetables from the US, how would we take care of ourselves? We need to look at these resources that aren’t being used right now and harvest them. It increases resilience and food security.

Once you’ve eaten an apple that just came off a tree and compare it to a piece of fruit that was picked when it wasn’t ripe and then transported 3,000 miles, you’ll never go back. The taste is incredible. Once you’ve eaten local, it changes your perception of food.

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