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Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP) is a grassroots gleaning organization with a social conscience. Not only do volunteers share in the harvest, but half of the harvest goes to food banks and other agencies serving low-income people. And half of the harvesting positions are reserved for low-income people (yes, they have waiting lists!).
Executive Director Katy Kolker worked with food justice before founding PFTP, so she built into the organization an ethic of sharing with those in need. Here’s how it works: Landowners register their fruit trees and notify PFTP just before prime harvest time. The organization then coordinates volunteers for a harvest party, and provides all the equipment.
We joined in on an apple-tree harvest party. After carrying equipment to the back yard, about a dozen volunteers circled for introductions and to get guidelines from harvest coordinators Eliza and John. Guidelines like how and where to safely use the ladders, and how to pick fruit (pull up! the stem is more likely to stay on the fruit, and protect microorganisms from entering and accelerating decay.)
The team donned volunteer-made harvesting aprons with big front pockets, and then set off in all directions to work! Several held a tarp under the tree to catch falling apples when tree limbs were shaken. Others climbed ladders, and several tried the long fruit-picking poles for fruit otherwise beyond reach. Others sorted fruit into best (for the food bank) and good (for the volunteers). After weighing the harvest, they cleaned the grounds, divided the good bounty among themselves, and were good to go!
Katy told us of other PFTP programs that extend their services: a tree stewardship program that prunes and cares for registered trees in wintertime; tree scouts who identify potential trees for the program; and an orchard being planted on city land. With over 500 trees in their registry, and about as many volunteers, they share thousands of pounds of fruit with their community each season — surely a fruitful endeavor on all levels. (www.portlandfruit.org)
P.S. We collected a bag of apples at the harvest party, and made Gleaned Apple Pie in the mobile studio’s tiny oven. Divine!