The following story was contributed by Megan Hill.
When I lived on Queen Anne, I walked by an enormous fig tree almost every day. The tree bore so much more fruit than the owners, the squirrels, and the birds could collect, the sidewalk underneath its branches was a disgusting, smelly mess of squished, rotting figs. It seemed a shame to watch that tasty fruit end up as nothing more than a nasty slipping hazard.
Gail Savina, executive director and founder of the nonprofit City Fruit, wants to make sure no fruit goes to waste in Seattle. Seattleites are avid urban farmers, but fruit like apples, pears, figs, plums, cherries and even grapes isn't often part of the conversation.
"There's a huge number of fruit trees in the city, and there's a lot of interest in urban agriculture and gardening, but fruit trees aren't really on the radar screen," she says
City Fruit works with homeowners and in public parks to care for these trees, or teach homeowners to care for them. Some homeowners are interested in learning about pruning and tree care, while others prefer to have City Fruit maintain the trees and pick the fruit.
The organization donates most of the fruit--what would otherwise become sidewalk mash-- to food banks, shelters, and senior housing. City Fruit also sells a small percentage to local chefs and bakers like Dahlia Bakery, La Medusa, and the Columbia City Bakery. The organization also trains volunteers, called stewards, to care for trees in public parks. Last year, the organization harvested 18,414 pounds of edible fruit, a record amount that they hope to exceed as they grow.
The project has allowed Savina to gain an interesting perspective on Seattle's history, too. "We'll go into a neighborhood and there will be an Asian pear tree in every single person's yard, and you realize, 'Oh, that used to be an orchard.' They plotted it out and put houses. The orchard's still there but it's become very invisible."
Savina started City Fruit after retiring from her career with King County, though her interest in fruit goes back to her childhood.
"I grew up in Eastern Washington so I started out as a little kid picking fruit in Wenatchee. It's kind of in my blood," she says. After she retired, Savina managed the Urban Fruit Harvest Project at Solid Ground, the anti-poverty nonprofit. Savina collected information on the city's fruit trees and organized volunteers to collect unwanted fruit and send it to other charities that could use it. But she wanted to take her work one step further.
"Solid Ground is an anti-poverty program so it's mostly interested in capturing the food element but not as much interested in other aspects of tree care. That wasn't their mission," she says. "But as I was harvesting all of this food and organizing these harvests we noticed how many of the trees were in bad shape. It became clear that an organization that looked at the whole life cycle of fruit in the community would be useful."