When Di Celliers started Community Fruit Harvesting six years ago it was to fill a simple need – to match surplus grown fruit with those those struggling to make ends meet.
“Nobody should go hungry while fruit falls to the ground and rots,” explains Di, who adds that the initiative involves a mind-boggling amount of work.
“Our community grew by 60 per cent last year and is run entirely by volunteers. What started out as a way of preventing food going to waste has grown into a social opportunity for people to put back into their community.”
Last year the initiative collected and redistributed 35,000kg of produce and bottled 7,500 jars of preserves.
Anyone can pick a tree!
At the heart of Community Fruit Harvesting is a strong volunteer network of people from all walks of life with varying skills.
Di says a lot of people want to connect to help but don’t necessarily know how to do it in a way that doesn’t become all-consuming. She says picking a tree in a neighbourhood garden can be done in 20 minutes, and volunteers need give no more than an hour of their time to make a difference.
When people realise how much fun it is they get totally hooked, she says.
Where the magic happens
Sometimes the picking is in greater volume and means large groups need to travel to an orchard – or similar grower – to harvest an enormous amount of produce. A typical orchard can yield 1000kg of fruit.
For Di these outings are where the real magic happens.
“There’s a point where you look around and people are connecting, building friendships. The retired work alongside the young, new migrants work with fifth-generation New Zealanders and everyone learns from each other. People discuss their own experiences with food as they pick and that’s when recipes and ideas are shared.”
Reducing food waste
There is a lot to learn about how to make the most of seasonal fruit and veges, says Di, and this has become a key focus of the initiative.
“For me it’s important that people have the knowledge to make the most of what’s there. Cherry guavas are a great example – people will have them growing in their gardens but no idea what to do with them. The same goes for quince and crab apple.”
Support for an innovative solution
Community Fruit Harvesting has been supported with funding from Auckland Council’s Waste Minimisation Innovation Fund.
The fund provides up to $500,000 a year to seed innovative waste solutions from businesses, iwi/Māori and education/community groups.
Chair of the Environment and Community Committee Cllr Penny Hulse describes Community Fruit Harvesting as a wonderful initiative that shows how powerful a grassroots idea can be.
“Auckland is growing at an astonishing rate and we need ideas like this that build strong communities for families to live in. Not only is Community Fruit Harvesting preventing food waste – which is something I’m really passionate about – but it’s connecting people from diverse backgrounds for a shared vision.”
Keen to help?
You don’t need any particular skills to get involved in Community Fruit Harvesting, says Di.
“For example, when we go to pick strawberry farms we need volunteers to top and tail the fruit. In winter we always need people to take the citrus fruit away to juice it for cordial, or chop the skins to use in marmalades,” she says.
She is also keen to hear from anyone able to offer a few volunteer hours to manage admin chores, as well as marketing, website maintenance and social media.