by Mark Van Streefkerk
Starting this Friday, nonprofit City Fruit will host the first of 12 Fruit For All pop-ups across Seattle, giving free, city-grown fruit to anyone who wants it on a first come, first served basis. Now in their third year of community pop-up events, City Fruit harvests fruit from Seattle orchards and trees that would otherwise go to waste and gives it to anyone who needs it through food banks, meal programs, and pop-ups. Starting at New Holly Rockery Community Garden July 31, pop-ups will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. twice a week until late September. Check out the calendar and locations here.
Lisa Miyashita, City Fruit Communications and Community Engagement Manager, noted that COVID-19 has impacted many families already struggling with food insecurity. “I know the demand at food banks is really high,” she said. “We also hear what they have access to is shelf-stable products like frozen pizza, mac and cheese that comes out of a box. This city has so many fruit trees. They produce food every year, and if we don’t pick them, it’ll just go to waste. It’s our job to make sure that food doesn’t go to waste, especially when there’s so many people who are food insecure.”
Fruit is unique, Miyashita explained, citing that most city farming initiatives, like P-Patch Community Gardening, focus on growing vegetables. While obviously important, vegetables must be planted seasonally, but Seattle’s fruit trees are already here and provide ample amounts of fruit each year that can help feed the community. All that’s required is for someone to pick it.
City Fruit began 12 years ago when a group of volunteers began inquiring about the fruit trees in their neighborhoods. “We’re lucky to live in a city where there are so many fruit trees that produce wonderful fruit, but a lot of people probably don’t know exactly how to take care of their tree and what to do with the fruit. Even just one tree in a backyard, it produces way more than what your family can consume. [City Fruit founders] saw a lot of free fruit go to waste, just drop to the ground, and not [being] consumed,” Miyashita said.
The grassroots organization started harvesting local fruit and sharing it with community partners, food banks, and meal programs. Since then, City Fruit has become a nonprofit offering educational training like orchard stewardship and has a database of a couple thousand registered fruit trees across the city.
More than just providing free produce, Seattle’s fruit trees are an important site of community connection. “The point is not only to share the fruit, but it’s also about our connection to the land and this city that’s home to this vast food tree canopy,” Miyashita emphasized. “Trees live for a long, long time. People who move to the city and buy a house, they plant new trees, but at the same time there are a lot of old trees that were planted decades ago, especially with the notion that those trees could help feed the community. It’s our connection to the legacy of the trees and connection to the city.”
In addition to donating to food banks and meal programs, City Fruit started pop-up events to get fruit directly to community members. At pop-ups before the pandemic, individuals could hand-pick their own fruit from crates, but now, due to COVID-19, people won’t be able to touch the fruit. Volunteers will hand over a pre-packed bag of whatever fruit is requested and masks are required as well as social distancing and other safety precautions.
The fruit itself is “super fresh” and in some instances picked even the day of the pop-up. So far, harvesters have gathered early apples and plums of different varieties like Italian and Shiro plums. Over the summer expect to see pears, grapes, and figs “if you’re lucky,” at pop-ups. Later in the year, quince, persimmons, and kiwi are harvested.
City Fruit also offers yearly memberships at $25 — or four hours of volunteer work — and includes perks like fruit CSA boxes that can be picked up at pop-ups, exclusive discounts with partner businesses, and more.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image: The first fruits of the season: early apple varieties, and Italian plums. (Photo courtesy of City Fruit)