by Marcus Harrison Green
If an apple falls from a tree in the city and there is no one around to pick it up and eat it, should you squeeze out even a granular amount of compassion for the pathetic plight of the neglected fruit? To this riff on the age old philosophical thought experiment that has plagued anyone with the mixed blessing of having attained a liberal arts degree, those associated with South Seattle’s City Fruit would answer an emphatic, “Yes,” though probably with considerably coarser language.
Located in Beacon Hill’s El Centro De La Raza, the urban fruit harvesting non-profit has spent the past six years ensuring that all unused fruit grown from trees in the greater Seattle area – which just so happens to be the United State’s largest urban orchard- is given a shot at landing in the bellies of the community’s food insecure.
With 1 in 5 children in the King County area currently going hungry at night- the ratio is slightly greater in South Seattle neighborhoods- City Fruit’s mission could not seem more relevant, as with inequality presently serving as verbal cheese- instantaneously transforming the drab into intriguing as long as it’s strewn with liberal amounts of the stuff- food disparities within communities conspicuously often only rates a minor mention in the discourse, something that the organization’s Executive Director, Catherine (Kate) Morrison, knows all too well.
“There’s the calorie dense things that people eat that aren’t necessarily good for you, so we fight food insecurity because we’re providing food for people who need it. We also fill the gap for those food desert areas, all while doing it in a culturally sensitive and community focused way,” she says.
Morrison is speaking to the fact that even in areas that are not technically food deserts- meaning that there is at least one convenience store or small grocer located within a reasonable proximity- many families, in making a paycheck stretch to the bounds of breaking, are forced to purchase cheap, high calorie foods that often have less nutritious content than the material they’re packaged in.
For some South Seattle families who struggle to feed a family of four, the joke about living off of Top Ramen noodles, Kool-Aid and processed macaroni and cheese is a lived reality. It’s one of the many reasons that City Fruit’s popularity in the area has taken off like a lit firework.
“Every single time someone hears about us and what we do, people automatically light up,” says Brian Mickelson, City Fruit’s Development Manager.
Though tackling food insecurity is at the forefront of its mission, the organization – founded in 2008 by Beacon Hill resident Gail Savina- may actually serve as the motherload to bleeding heart do-gooders everywhere, as it crosses off just about every “must have” on their fantasy Christmas list:
Community Beautification? The organization works with local tree owners to salvage fallen fruit that has piled up around their residences, many times creating both an “eyesore” and an impediment for pedestrians.
Local Residents Benefited? As they serve the South Seattle haunts of Seward Park, Rainier Beach, Mount Baker, Columbia City and Beacon Hill (with possible expansion into Skyway) the majority of the fruit they harvest is distributed to daycares, schools, lunch programs and food banks within those neighborhoods.
Environment? Fret not Sierra Club card carriers and proud Prius lessees (or should I say all Seattleites…), in a world where eating local means living in New York while choosing an apple from Washington over a comparable one from Argentina, all of the fruit they harvest is distributed within the state of Washington. Even that which is not suitable for donation ends up in the restaurants of Chef Extraordinaire, Tom Douglas.
Employs Locals? While the organization utilizes volunteers, the majority of their fruit harvesters are actually paid staff who come directly from the neighborhoods City Fruit serves.
But okay, says the still unconvinced cynic, with the free fruit they’re giving away these maniacal fruit loving fanatics must of course be undercutting the local area Farmer’s Markets? No, actually. The organization goes out of its way not to distribute at local markets – not only to make sure to not impinge on local growers, but to also guarantee that the fruit they harvest remains in the confines of the 206 area code.
“We always want to make sure that our food is either in a food bank the same day or the next day and not sitting in anyone’s car, although I do have 60 lbs of Apples in mine. But those are cooking Apples,” jokes Morrison, as she readies for the organization’s 4th annual Hard Cider Taste to be held November 6th at the Palace Ballroom.
“We’re something that citizen philanthropists can get behind full bore, because they have this stuff in their backyard,” says Mickelson. “They see all that’s going to waste, and the more fruit they can grow, the more efficient and targeted we can be. There’s a ton of room for collaboration with the community.”
It’s this hope for collaboration with the citizens of South Seattle that the still ripening non-profit hopes will allow them to reach their audacious goal: ensuring no one in the south end community lacks access to nutritious food, regardless of income.
Says Morrison, “My background is in public health, so for me access to healthy food is the foundation of a healthy community. It’s just that simple.”