Not Far From The Tree – picking local fruit

In September, I joined a really cool Toronto group called Not Far From the Tree. They harvest fresh fruit from people’s backyards. The group is made up of volunteer gleaners. Everyone benefits: the tree owners who get a share of the harvest and their yard cleared of falling fruit, the volunteers who get exercise, social interaction and a share of the bounty, and homeless shelters who are the main recipients of this free harvest. The program is also very good for the environment as it supports locally-grown produce – you can’t get more local than a backyard tree. Eating this way avoids agricultural pesticides and herbicides as well as the fuel for long distance shipping.

John (who lives at the house) and I went on a couple of pear picks this Fall. We were assigned to a huge tree with an enormous bounty of fruit. At the end, our share amounted to over 50 pears each. I climbed high into the tree and took the following photos.

Picking pears

John picking pears with Shannon and Jen, two other volunteers

Hellen bravely climbs up to pick up another heavy bag of pears.

Helen bravely climbs up to get another heavy bag of pears that I am about to hand her.

A couple weeks later, we picked another pear tree. This time I recorded the count: 12 large bags (and one bucket for the owners). Together they weighed about 250 pounds (over 110 kilograms). I estimate we got 1150 pears from that single tree. There were still a lot more that we couldn’t reach and others that weren’t ripe enough yet. And before we arrived much fruit had already fallen. The owner reported that a small branch weighted with pears had come crashing down a few days prior.

Pear bounty. On the left are the tree owners. I am in the center.

Our team of gleaners including the tree owners on the left. I am in the center. We picked this pear bounty in just a few hours with the help of the blue tarp in the photo. With a person holding each corner, it was held suspended below the tree while I was high up in the canopy shaking branches.

Fruit trees produce a lot food using very little land. Years ago, I researched how much land it takes to feed people. I wanted to know how the land footprint compared between vegetarians and meat-eaters. If you divide all the agricultural land in North America by the population it comes out to about 3.5 acres per person. But it turns out that vegetarians can subsist on a fraction of this amount.

Picking pears this Fall really proved to me how true and important this is. Just a few trees can produce more food than you could possibly eat in a year. Other plant foods such as potatoes and grains are also very productive. Eating low on the food chain frees up farmland that can be returned to wilderness. It also means less soil erosion, less dams, less pesticides and less energy use.

In addition to pears, Not Far From the Tree has picked apricots, apples, elderberries and grapes. So far this year they have picked over 3,003 pounds of fruit that would have otherwise fallen to the ground.

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Treasure from another person’s garbage. Tips and finds

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A few weeks ago I wrote about how to give away stuff you don’t want anymore. The other side of that is finding free stuff. It can be fun and rewarding to go scavenging for treasure. You never know what you may come across. Currently, I stick to non-bagged residential “garbage.” Foraging for stuff behind stores, known as dumpster diving or skipping, is more involved.

Below are some reasons, tips and suggestions, as well as photos of recent finds.

Why pick up garbage? You can …

  • find free stuff that you need.
  • discover treasure.
  • prevent useful things from being trucked to landfill or incinerators.
  • find gifts for family, friends or strangers.
  • give new life to an item that needs some simple fixing.
  • rescue cans, bottles and papers that belong in recycling.

 There is an excellent photo series at Instructibles called Dumpster Dipping (for a small planet or just for fun). The author describes it as:

“… an enjoyable activity involving a pleasant bike ride, a hunt, the thrill of discovery, the mystery of recent archeology, forensic storytelling, good Karma recycling, and a form of shopping with green environmental impact. It helps me get in touch with my early human hunter gathering roots. It is similar to gold panning, … It is also possible to undo your entire carbon footprint through the recycling of other people’s former stuff.”

Tips

  • Go around your immediate neighbourhood. Nearby finds are easier to carry back.
  • Garbage day offers the best selection, and the last chance to save stuff from landfill.
  • Look for houses that are throwing away a large amount of stuff – after a Spring cleaning or someone moving out. The first of a month is a good time to find stuff left behind by former tenants.
  • I don’t bother opening up bags, unless they are located beside a lot of nice unbagged items, and look like they may contain useful stuff. Continue reading

Garbage is another person’s treasure – how to give away junk

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I am always amazed at how easy it is to give away stuff in front of our house. Even things that I consider to be complete junk get snapped up, and I am no stranger to scavenging. Many of the items in our house were found in the trash. This is a great way to cut down on the “garbage” that gets sent to landfills or incinerators, while at the same time helping people in need.

Meagan moved out this month and left behind an old bed (see photo above), wobbly shelf and a bunch of stuff that she intended to throw away. Joe claimed an old chair for his room, then helped me move the rest of the discarded furniture to the curb. The wobbly shelf made of white particle board was grabbed by the time we got back to the front door!

I knew the old stained bed would be a harder “sell”. So I attached a note that read: “Good Bed. No bed bugs, no cats, non-smoking house.” The bed was gone after two days! I was amazed. All the smaller items have also been picked up. Only the old pillows remain.

Tips on how best to give away junk:

  • Arrange items as neatly and attractively as possible.
  • Put items out well ahead of garbage day. Or if garbage day arrives, remove the items for give-away from the curb, then put them back after the garbage truck has passed.
  • If a plug-in item such as a toaster, stereo or tool works, attach a note saying: “It works.” If it is broken, leave a note explaining this. Someone may know how to fix it or may want it for parts.
  • de-garbage-sign.jpgWhen giving away old couches, bedding or carpets, leave a note explaining if the home was free from smoking, bed bugs, cockroaches, cats or dogs. Recently bed bugs have become a problem in Toronto. Some people are discarding infested items, but if the temperature outside is below freezing this will kill them. During warmer weather, if you see a nice item without a note, the only way to tell if it is safe would be to knock on the door of the house.
  • If rain if forecast, cover items with plastic or move them to a sheltered place until the rain stops.
  • If you have the time and energy, hold a garage sale first. If people have to pay something, they are more likely to value and make use of it. At the end of the day, leave the unsold stuff by the curb.
  • Online, you can make use of Craigslist or FreeCycle to get rid of stuff.