South Seattle Gem: Catherine Morrison

Who: Catherine Morrison

Known around South Seattle as: Exalted Chieftain of City Fruit

Nickname or Alias: Kate

Super trait: I’m a public health nerd.  I love my chosen field, and as such, I can connect anything – any issue or topic – to public health in just a few links.  My work with City Fruit is absolutely driven by my interest in improving community health. And the connections are pretty easy to make – access to nutritious food is the foundation of a healthy, productive community.

Kids that eat healthier do better in school, have less behavioral issues, and are generally less likely to have health issues later in life. Nutrition is essential throughout our lives – from preventing diabetes and heart disease, to even potentially reducing your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.


You’ve lived and worked in a variety of places- including Washington D.C. What’s so unique about working in South Seattle relative to those other cities (outside of never encountering someone as diabolical as Frank Underwood from House of Cards)?

One of the things that appealed to me about Seattle was the sense of community. Immediately at the start of joining City Fruit, I felt part of the South Seattle community.  People are generous with their time, welcoming, and curious.  And it’s a bit slowed down from other places I’ve lived.  

Sometimes working in DC, even though you are in the nation’s capital where big decisions are made, it was hard to see the progress you were working toward. In South Seattle and with City Fruit, all I have to do is go downstairs at El Centro de la Raza, where our office is located, and see the food bank and community members to know the difference we make. The impact is immediate.


“Food Inequality” is a huge concern of yours. If we lived in some alternate reality where you were all of a sudden granted autonomous power to run the world what policies would you put in place to make sure all South End residents had access to nutrient-rich, healthy food?

Access means a lot of things – its financial – healthy food that is affordable; its cultural –the food that is important to your family and way of life is available; and its physical – you can obtain healthy food without enormous struggle or burden.   There are a lot complex factors involved in the distribution of food – healthy food.  And the City of Seattle and King County have put together smart plans to try and address these issues on a comprehensive scale.  I would love to see those plans fully implemented and funded.

What I love about City Fruit is that we work at the intersection of food access issues, food insecurity, and the obesity crisis.  We provide nutritious, universally recognized and appreciated fruit at the food banks and meal programs community members trust and are able to access.  And we are doing it in neighborhoods experiencing the highest rates of childhood and adult obesity.  Increasing access to fruit is not the total solution to any of these issues, but it’s a tool in the toolbox of addressing inequalities and improving health.


You guys collect fruit from all around the South End area. Give us an insiders take on what neighborhoods have abundant amounts of fruity treasure to plunder?

Everywhere in South Seattle! The city was once lined with orchards and as a result, we have trees scattered throughout the area.  At Amy Yee Tennis Center Orchard, for example, the area was once the Stadium Homes housing project, between 1943 and 1954.  We believe many of the trees were planted during that time.

We harvested over 9,400 pounds of fruit from neighborhoods throughout South Seattle last year. Food that was directly donated to our partners in the area, including the Rainier Valley Food Bank  and El Centro’s Food Bank.


If you could compare South Seattle to a fruit what would it be and why? Get all metaphorical on us!

The mighty plum: resistant to most pests, useful in a variety of savory and sweet dishes, the plum is versatile! Plums come in many shapes, sizes, and varieties. A single pound of plums can consist of four to six pieces of fruit – meaning a plum tree can provide for its community.  Just in the same way South Seattle neighbors and community members take care of one another.


Top five things about South Seattle you wish you could seed all over the world?

In South Seattle and through my work with City Fruit, I see a spirit of volunteerism, sense of responsibility, and purpose of place like no other.  Our Master Fruit Tree Steward program was composed of mainly South Seattle residents.  These individuals spent eight months in intensive classes and are now dedicating 40 hours each to sharing their new skills with their friends, neighbors, and community groups.


What do you hope to be able to say about our area that you can’t necessarily say about it now, within a few years?

No fruit wasted.  We know that when families have access to healthy food sources, their diets and health improve.  Let’s put our natural resource – fresh fruit – to work in feeding our communities! The best fruit – organic and local – is available, if we care for and maintain our fruit trees.
To get involved, tree owners can register their fruit trees for the upcoming summer harvest season. Our calendar is full of opportunities to learn more about caring for your trees. We also host dozens of work parties in the South Seattle area each year and always need more volunteers!