It was a day for meeting new friends. I had been at the Pointe-Claire market stand talking to Alex of La Ferme du Zephyr. I get introduced to the owners of the Co-op des Bons Voisins (more on them and the co-op in a future posting), and they introduce me to Geneviève Lussier, mother of 3 ½ year old twins (a full-time plus occupation in and of itself), and founder of Vergers de Chez Nous, an ad hoc group that harvests privately-owned fruit trees on the West Island. It’s a modern urban version of gleaning; harvesting fruit that no one else wants and would otherwise go to waste. This is about as local as you can get. It may even be your own back yard. Or your neighbor’s. And all you have to do is pitch in and pick some fruit.
A few years ago, when Geneviève was driving around, she started noticing all the fruit
trees (“and there are a lot”) – and all of the unpicked fruit rotting on the ground. She started playing with the idea of how to harvest the trees, yet afraid that people might find her idea a bit nuts. But then she started hearing other people talk of the same thing. Apparently, the idea was not so crazy after all. She spoke to a non-profit group and found that they would be interested in reaping some of the benefits of this urban harvest. More research, and Geneviève found that there are similar groups sprouting up all over North America and Canada.
With no experience a part from a couple of U-pick outings, Geneviève set out to develop this idea. She researched every aspect: how to contact the private owners, when and what to harvest and how to deal with the various insects and diseases.
With her decision to launch this spring, she found some people willing to register their trees for the pick, through word of mouth and some of the cities and boroughs of West Island (they also have trees on public grounds that the city has authorized for picking). She put out a call for volunteers, willing to do a two-hour pick in exchange for a portion of the harvest. And off they went with the ripening of the first apples.
The harvest itself is split three ways: one-third to the owner, one-third to be divided among the volunteers, and one-third to local non-profit organizations. This year she splits the harvests between the Co-op des Bons Voisins, Équipe Entreprise and the Bread Basket Lac Saint-Louis (starting later this month).
One of the biggest unexpected benefits is seeing how the fruits of her labor are used. Geneviève walked into the Co-op the other day and was greeted by Anne-Marie. “Look what we’ve made!” She points excitedly to the crab apple jelly produced from the harvest of a recent pick. They serve it now as an accompaniment on their cheese plate. Geneviève was just as delighted, if not more. She still was bubbling over with excitement as she told me the story. It’s a great feeling to see how her project is helping out the community.
The tree owners are also able to rediscover the value of the fruit of their own trees, and have a sense of pride in donating to worthy causes and helping out their community.
Diane Berry, member of the Pointe-Claire Horticultural Society met Geneviève when our imaginative entrepreneur came knocking on her door. Diane agreed immediately to participate. As owner of over a dozen pear trees and with only two mouths to feed, much of the harvest gets eaten by squirrels and crows or simply falls to the ground.
The day of the pick was a huge success, with 79 lbs (35 kg.) of pears harvested. Diane said there was music and laughter. A real delight. And, she adds, “now I don’t have to climb a ladder myself!”
Finding volunteers has turned out to be the biggest difficulty in the project. But Geneviève
has faith that with more media coverage and as the word spreads, more people will become involved.
If you have fruit trees that need picking, or would like to volunteer, contact Geneviève at: [email protected]. Even though summer is ending, there are still 9 private lots and 4 public ones to be harvested before the season ends. I’m hoping to come along on the next one, and if it’s kid friendly, with my two young children. (You can ask Geneviève before confirming your presence, if this is an issue).
She also welcomes help for the administrative end of the project. If you would like to help organize the project for next year, help with registering as a non-profit, or just help getting the word out, then you may contact her at the same email address.
This is just the beginning. The seeds are being planted. (I promise, the last of the bad puns!) Projects for next year include: having a daycare person at the picks to help with small children, and signaling the “child-friendly” picks; taking part of the harvest to make jam, which in turn would be sold to cover the out-of-pocket expenses such as photocopies.
In Toronto, the highly successful Not Far From the Tree urban picking organization also harvest foods such as sumac and ginko nuts. Geneviève isn’t quite ready to expand in that direction, but it is something to think about. For now the harvest mainly consists of cherries at the beginning of the season in June, to some late pears at the end of the season in October, passing by grapes, apples, Dolgo crab apples, pears and plums. “Walnuts would be nice!” Thinking some fruit in exchange for a bit of labor might be the thing for you, but not sure what you would do with a couple of pounds of plums or apples? Geneviève understands the dilemma and puts up some recipe ideas on her website. http://vergersdecheznous.wordpress.com/
Or, if just a taste will do you, stop by the Co-op des Bons Voisins and find out what fruity delights they’re concocting in their kitchen. I’m sure it’ll be a taste of heaven.