Okanagan Fruit Tree Project seeing plenty of volunteers to help pick fruit and veg for the needy

Harvesting to feed others

Casey Richardson

Saturday kicked off the Great Apple Harvest event for the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project, who has been picking fruit and vegetables throughout the Valley since June.

The registered charity has been operating in the Central and South Okanagan since 2012, with volunteers who help grow and harvest fruits, vegetables and nuts throughout the farming and produce rescue programs.

The harvest is then shared among volunteers, schools, and community organizations that support people who experience household food insecurity. Schools and community organizations use the donated produce in their programming.

“Today what we're doing is our Great Apple Harvest, which is an annual event that we host, where we harvest as many apples as we can,” Casey Hamilton, executive director for the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project Society shared.

“We're on track for at least 16 bins of apples, which is great. We're going to be pressing that into our apple juice that we sell for a fundraiser to raise funds for our organization.”

Those juice boxes will be ready for purchase next weekend at McMillan Farms in Kelowna.

“We're going to have a stand there on the weekends and we'll be selling boxes of juice and also hot apple cider by the glass.”

The organization will also be selling to wholesalers to distribute to restaurants, coffee shops or breweries.

“It’s socially conscious apple juice,” Hamilton added with a laugh.

As of Saturday, over 30,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables have been picked by the Fruit Tree Project.

“People love volunteering with us, we are an inclusive family friendly outdoors, really fun experience. It's been really great, especially during COVID, because we can make sure that things are extra safe in following COVID-19 protocols."

The Johnson family joined in to the apple pick on Saturday after hearing about it from the Brown Bag Lecture series at the Penticton museum.

“We were inspired and really wanted to help...It resonated with us, the idea of going and picking fruit that goes to people who need it,” they said.

Saturday’s pick took place at Braden Hill Orchard and Farm in Summerland, where one of the owners shared that she has always had a special spot for the society.

“They're an amazing organization. When we moved to the Okanagan, I was looking for a way to develop community and I really believe deeply in food and in good food and in community endeavours. And I found the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project,” Ella Braden said.

“I volunteered with them for a few years, and I became a harvest leader. And then we bought this property in April of last year and started farming it in May. And this is our opportunity to give back to a really amazing organization that I believe deeply in.”

Two-thirds of the farmer's crop will go toward their own business, while they save the other third for the Fruit Tree Project.

“It's really rare in 2021, to have a community endeavour. And this is an opportunity to in one day do work that would take our family a week and a half, two weeks by ourself...It's many hands making light work and it's me bringing my community into a space that they might not otherwise access,” Braden added.

The organization hopes to grow its project, with continued increased demand from orchardists and volunteers.

“We have a lot of orchardists, homeowners that are calling us to harvest. The issue is the amount of coordination that has to go on behind the organizing. And so we can only coordinate so much. So the demand is coming from both sides and it's just doing the best that we can behind the scenes to make it happen,” Hamilton explained.

The project will keep on picking throughout the rest of fall. To find out more on the Fruit Tree Project, visit their website here.

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