Original article from The Age, August 24, 2013
When Keren Osborn moved to a Northcote house two years ago, she loved its big backyard. Later she realised it was more like an urban orchard, with 19 fruit trees.
It’s a cornucopia, supplying limes for gin and tonics, nectarines and apricots for snacks and orange juice for her daughters, aged one and five.
But she didn’t know what to do with the excess fruit, nor how to tend the ageing trees, many of them diseased.
So she called the Darebin Fruit Squad, a crack team of volunteers who, for free, harvest excess fruit and advise on tree maintenance. Leaving residents a box or two, they donate the leftover produce that would otherwise rot to the needy through charities such as Second Bite and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The volunteers, in return, get free TAFE-level horticulture training.
It’s a simple idea, but co-ordinator Liz Zanella says a year after starting, Fruit Squad – which is run by the Jika Jika Community Centre and sustainability group Transition Darebin – has 125 trees registered on 75 properties.
They’ve ventured as far as Kew, but prefer homes in the City of Darebin. They turned down an inquiry from Seabrook, near Laverton.
One fruit they don’t harvest is the labour-intensive olive, but they are seeking specialist advice.
They hope to harvest vegetables in future.
At present, there are enough volunteers, 18, but they want to sign up new households and be a blueprint for groups in other parts of Melbourne to copy.
Mrs Osborn said Fruit Squad was a brilliant idea.
”I thought, ‘This is an opportunity to learn about how to maintain our trees and how to get them healthy, and to have some of the extra fruit we have going to a good use’.”
She loves her grapefruit tree’s looks but not its fruit, which goes in the compost.
The three apple trees have woolly aphid, which means the fruit’s inedible so it rots. The orange tree, however, is too healthy.
”At the moment they’re falling off and [her one-year-old daughter] Jane uses them as balls … People come over and I say, ‘Please take some oranges home’.”
Fruit Squad volunteer Kate Patrick, 68, a retired academic, said the scheme was a chance to contribute to the community, and learn how to care for her own fruit trees. Fellow volunteer Gaby Harris, 37, a naturopath, says the hardest fruits to pick are figs, which have a sticky sap, and pomegranates.
”If they drop they scatter their seeds everywhere and stain everything red.”
Householders are grateful. ”They think it’s fantastic because otherwise the fruit just drops and rots on the ground and causes problems for them,” Ms Harris said.
”And they’re really pleased the fruit is going to good use, rather than just being wasted.”
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