‘Magic’ falls not far from the tree; group up for Green Toronto Award

Every year inside Toronto’s city limits, thousands of trees bloom and bear fruit.

And every year much of that cornucopia goes uneaten, often because no one’s available to pick the fruit.

That’s where Not Far From The Tree comes in. The local organization registers fruit trees on residential and city-owned property, and sends volunteers to help with the harvest.

“There’s a lot of magic that happens when this private nuisance is transformed into an asset for the community,” said Laura Reinsborough, the organization’s founder and director. “It becomes this really great social moment too, where strangers gather and are welcomed into somebody’s private yard.

“They begin to share recipes and picking tips. They end up swapping all these great stories under these fruit-laden branches within our own city. These beautiful expressions of community happen on a really small scale but we’ve been able to facilitate that happening hundreds of times each year.”

Fruit harvested by Not Far From The Tree in 2011:

  • Apples
  • Elder Berries
  • Apricots
  • Plums
  • Sour Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Walnuts
  • Service Berries
  • Saskatoon berries
  • Sumach
  • Gingko nuts
  • Black Walnuts

Source: Not Far From The Tree

Not Far From The Tree operates in 14 of the Toronto’s 44 wards and has plans to grow across the city, though right now it’s focused on building its infrastructure so none of the 11,00 registered trees goes unpicked. Last year, the organization harvested 144 trees. Since launching in 2008, more than 15,800 kilograms of fruit have been harvested.

One third of the picked fruit is given to the tree’s owner, another third is divided among the volunteers and the remainder is delivered by bicycle to anyone who is interested, including neighbourhood food banks, shelters, and community kitchens.

Although the fruit harvest in Toronto lasts from mid-June to late October, running the organization is a year-round process that has Reinsborough spending the winters planning, scheduling and fundraising in preparation for the summer season.

The success of Not Far From The Tree has attracted attention from both here at home and a world away.

This year, the organization is nominated for a Green Toronto Award in the local food category, which follows a nomination in the leadership category a year ago.

“Its heartwarming to get that sort of recognition, especially from the City, which is pushing so many great environmental initiatives forward,” Reinsborough said.

Farther from home, Not Far From The Tree has received interest from community groups in places like Mississauga, Atlanta, Ga., and Auckland, New Zealand, that want to replicate what the organization is doing in Toronto, Reinsborough said.

The Green Toronto Awards are scheduled to be handed out April 13 at the Green Living Show.