Not Far From the Tree is a non-profit organization that inspires Torontonians to harvest, share, celebrate and steward the bounty from our urban orchard. They work with over 2,000 volunteers to collect and distribute the city’s annual fruit harvest, based out of Artscape Wychwood Barns. Their busy season is heating up and we caught a piece of the action with Project Director Megan Anevich.
How did Not Far From the Tree start?
Not Far From the Tree (NFFTT) was founded ten years ago in 2008 by Laura Reinsborough. She was inspired to start the organization after seeing the apples in the historical orchard at the Spadina Museum. She realized how much fruit is growing in backyards across Toronto and devised a plan to not let it go to waste. Now we are two staff members during the year, increasing to six people during summer. We just celebrated our tenth anniversary with a special annual report.
How does your picking program work?
Our picking program is essentially volunteer-based. We have over 2,200 fruit pickers and 1,800 home owners registered with the program. Just over 100 volunteers are assigned lead status—they’re our Supreme Gleaners. They are responsible for leading the picks and power our organization.
On our online portal, we’ll set up, or host, a pick. Leaders will claim a pick and then a group of five volunteer pickers will join them. The leaders will pick up one of our Babboe cargo bikes and equipment sets, and set off from there. We do about 300 picks every season –and it’s all done on bicycle.
After a pick is finished, the harvest is split three ways between the homeowner, the volunteers and one of 35 partner social service agencies.
Who are your social service agency partners and what do they do with the fruit?
Our partners range from community food centres, to YMCA organizations, to shelters and seniors’ residences. Many of these relationships were established at the beginning of NFFTT and the roster has mainly grown through word of mouth. We’re always accepting new agency partners.
Once an agency receives fruit from one of our picks, they incorporate it into their meal programs somehow as a way for people to connect. It varies based on the agency as to how they use or distribute the fruit. Sometimes it’s used in meals, other times in baking activities.
This year we’re doing something new, working with our partners to host workshops for their clients. We want to go deeper than just dropping off the fruit. We’re presently working with the Regent Park Community Food Centre to involve their clients in a pick and then work with them in the kitchen to use the fruit they pick.
Can you keep up with demand? How does NFFTT keep up with all of this?
Right now, we’re limited in our operating area. We operate in the boundaries of Jane Street to the west, Victoria Park to the east, up to Eglinton and down to the waterfront. But there’s a huge demand in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York that we currently cannot fill. Other organizations are starting similar models in their area, for instance Black Creek Community Farm.
Our web portal really helps; we have automated emails going out to volunteers and coordinating the picks. But the homeowner requests are still coming in via email, and scheduling places a heavy demand on staff.
One thing on our radar for growth is developing a technology—an app—to handle pick requests.This would eliminate some of the heavy staffing demands and connect homeowners directly with pickers in their community.
Besides your app, what other big ideas are you working on?
We’re reaching a critical moment in time for Toronto’s urban orchard. About 70-80% of our fruit trees are in need of care—they’re too big, and haven’t been tended—and are reaching the end of their natural 30-40 year life span. Intervention is needed to maintain this bounty, replenish our urban orchard and avoid a massive die-off with nothing to replace it. So we’re trying to implement a culture of fruit tree care and stewardship and we’re starting to plant trees as well.
Not Far From the Tree’s annual City Cider fundraiser is an urban harvest celebration at Spadina Museum, the original site of inspiration for the organization. Save the date—City Cider is happening Sunday, September 16, 2018. Visit notfarfromthetree.org for details.