Not Far From the Tree picks local apricots in Toronto

Pick Your Favourite Urban Fruit

Not Far From the Tree will host a Toronto Tree Tour with Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Foresters (LEAF) and the Toronto Public Space Committee this afternoon (Saturday). It's an "edible tree tour" with a heritage apple tasting built into the walk.

Last month I joined Not Far From the Tree for an apricot-picking in the urban orchards of ward 21. The group is made up of volunteer gleaners who are sent in teams offer to pick fruit trees in the backyards of residential properties in Toronto, alleviating the burden of harvesting the fruit while sharing the bounty with the community.

In addition to apricots, they've picked pears, apples, elderberries and grapes. So far this year they have shared over 2,000 pounds of fruit that would have otherwise fed only the birds, worms and possibly raccoons in the neighbourhood.

So what's it like being a volunteer gleaner?

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Well, first you've got to fill out a volunteer liability waiver stating that you're responsible for any personal injury that might occur while picking. Personal injury while fruit picking?

Risks include: potential spills climbing a ladder, having an apricot land on your head or a branch poke you in the eye, or being stung by a bee.

Not Far From the Tree3 project coordinator, Laura Reinsborough enjoys an apricot during a pick

"Don't bruise the fruit," cautions Laura Reinsborough, 25, (pictured above) the project coordinator for Not Far From the Tree. "If the fruit hits the ground, keep it separate."

Reinsborough says that her group of enthusiastic and committed volunteers make this happen. "There are over 130 signed up, but we usually get about 10 or 12 come to each pick."

Picking apricots with Not Far From the Tree in Toronto

Clayton Turner, 32, is one of the volunteer gleaners who joined us on the quiet residential street near St. Clair and Christie. "I feel passionate about picking urban fruit," says Turner. "Especially giving it away to those in need."

Once the fruit is picked, the gleaning team offers one third of the harvest to the tree owners and divides one third of the harvest among the volunteers to take home. The remaining one-third is transported by bicycle or cart immediately to a local community partner (currently, NaMeRes and Wychwood Open Door) to provide their programs with fresh fruit.

"Picking fruit makes me feel closer to nature," says Turner. "The jam making is good too. I also got to pick cherry trees earlier in the season, which I was going to use to make cherry cheesecake. Next is apples, so I'll be making apple pie soon."

As they expand, Not Far From the Tree hopes to become a network of neighbourhood-based fruit tree initiatives around the city. Combined efforts are to include education, training, mapping, preserving and celebration.

After a while collecting the apricots from the tree, a curious 8-year-old kid named Dimitri arrives on a skateboard to see what's going on. "Nice party," he says. One of the volunteers asks him if he wants to join. He declines, but after watching the action for a while, he accepts a few apricots to take home.

Rae Ann Fera (pictured below) is the owner of the tree we're picking on Atlas Ave. "I had a tree that really needed picking," says Fera. "Through another neighbour we heard about Not Far From the Tree. Once this tree got ripe, I had to call them."

Fera says the fruit-bearing trees are really romantic, but it's a real burden in the city. "The apricots would fall on our lawn, our driveway and our car. The sap from the fruit corrodes the paint, so we'd need a new paint job after a while."

A local resident shows off a basket gleaned from her apricot tree which was picked by Not Far From the Tree in Toronto

"If you live in ward 21, there's a chance that Not Far From the Tree can come and help harvest your fruit this year," says Reinsborough. "But people in other areas can register for potential future picks anyway.

"We started this as a bit of a pilot project last year, picking from the historic English Orchards of the Spadina Museum by Casa Loma. They have beautiful heritage gardens and orchards. Maybe 60 fruit trees of different types and beautiful tall trees that are about 120 years old."

Today's edible tree tour will visit these orchards and get to sample the heritage apples freshly picked for market this morning.

LEAF arborist Todd Irvine will give a talk about the magnificent white oak trees whose history dates back to when Toronto was a lush forest. The tour will also visit the grounds at Casa Loma and the forested ravine with nearby centuries-old mansions.

The tour is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and leaves from the Spadina Museum main entrance (285 Spadina Rd.) Suggested donation is $5.

Below, check out some more photos in this mini photo slideshow from the apricot pick:

Photos by Roger Cullman.


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