Illustration by Alex Nash

Non-profit tackles food insecurity, picks fruit

A wide variety of fruit trees thrive in the mild, rainy climate of Portland, producing a bounty of apples, cherries, figs and plums every year. Unfortunately, since many residents lack the time or know-how to collect fruit themselves, much of this produce goes to waste each year.

The Portland Fruit Tree Project was founded in 2007 to address this problem by harvesting unused fruit from around the city and using it to reduce hunger and food waste. The project has its roots in Northeast Portland, where the founders observed pounds of fruit falling from trees and rotting on sidewalks throughout the city. According to their website, over the 15 years since their founding, Portland Fruit Tree Project has established community orchards, led 750 harvest events and expanded their operation to include educational workshops.

The organization hosts volunteer harvesting projects to collect fruit from homeowners who have a surplus, and later redistributes that fruit to communities who face food insecurity. In 2020, the organization was able to save 11,000 pounds of fruit from waste and donate them to communities in need. The picked fruit is distributed primarily to food pantries, but some are reserved for volunteers and tree owners.

Portland Fruit Tree Project also offers tree care services ranging from 1-hour “coaching sessions” on properly caring for trees, to full-service orchard care. The non-profit’s most recent endeavor has been the “Mobile Orchard” project, where they aim to combat green gentrification and bring fresh fruits and vegetables to communities in need.

According to the non-profit’s website, green gentrification is the notion that “introducing urban green projects and spaces into a lower income area has the potential to drive up property values and push out marginalized groups.” By intentionally building transportable planter boxes, Portland Fruit Tree Project is able to move their planters to follow families if they relocate and thus provide for communities where the need is greatest.

Although the harvesting season usually ends in November, the organization is currently seeking volunteers to help pick fruit. The organization’s event calendar lists volunteer days to pick at some of their community orchards through December, so there is plenty of time to get involved this semester. The project also offers internship opportunities that can be found on their website, www.portlandfruit.org.

To this day, according to their impact statement, Portland Fruit Tree Project has donated $538,232 to food distribution organizations and has harvested upwards of 413,648 pounds of fruit. Beyond their own efforts, they also encourage homeowners to pick their own fruit and donate it to one of their partner organizations. Portland Fruit Tree Project stands as a great example of a grassroots non-profit organization that has found a unique way to address waste and inequality.

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