“Hipster alert! Hipster Alert! Hipster Alert!” My 14-year-old daughter, Sophie shrilled, pointing a finger across the street at a twenty-something wearing a cap that said, PLOW, thick black rimmed glasses and a bushy reddish-hued beard that would make Grizzly Adams envious.
Seattle is famous for many things…Tech, the Queen Bean, the infamous “Seattle Freeze,” (according to some people we’re a bunch of cold fish), Chef Tom Douglas and yes, we have our fair share of hipsters.
But did you know that Seattle is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that has a vast network of urban fruit trees?
We can thank the tree gods, (if you’re into that sort of thing) that despite massive urban growth, Seattle still has 100 year old orchards.
And, like dinosaur fossils, these forgotten and overgrown orchard sites around Seattle parks are being rediscovered and rejuvenated by our p-patch loving, bee-keeping, urban chicken-and-small-livestock-law-repealing, Seattleites with the help of organizations like City Fruit.
City Fruit is a nonprofit that was started six years ago by Gail Savina. Savina grew up working in the orchards of Wenatchee, Washington (the “Apple Capital of the World”).
“I knew, at a gut level, that fruit has value,” Gail Savina said, recently. “I felt that urban fruit was a wasted resource: most of it fell to the ground and rotted while the numbers of hungry and homeless continued to grow.”
Just in the last two months, City Fruit has collected nearly 12,000 pounds of fruit from Seattle’s neighborhoods and backyards—free fruit that would otherwise fall to the ground and rot—donating it to local food banks and meal programs.
“Luke?” I called out as “hipster” in question steadily walked across the street toward our minivan lugging a steel ladder…exactly the sturdy no nonsense kind needed for picking fruit.
Amelia, my ten-year-old mused, “Hipsters typically lean against walls while checking their Iphones. They wear beanies pulled down to one side and sport long facial hair and nerd glasses,” she said, with the no-nonsense tone of the lead behaviorist profiling an “Unsub” on Criminal Minds.
My kids and I were there to help Luke Jesperson, Harvest Coordinator for City Fruit, pick fruit.
We followed Luke up tiny concrete stairs to a typical brick residential home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Single file we made our way to a postage stamp sized back yard filled with a sprawling pear tree ripe for the picking… already a pile of fruit was rotting at its base.
Luke bent down and started picking up the mushy fruit three at a time, “We always clean around the tree before we pick and after as a way of saying “thank you” and to get rid of the bugs.”
Luke set up the ladder and handed Patrick, my seven-year-old his backpack. “Patrick, can you put it on backwards in front and put the fruit inside, like this,” he said, demoing a hands free approach to picking.
The kids warmed up to Luke when he called them by their first names, (I have five so that’s a big deal). He didn’t treat them like they were breakable glass when my older girls took turns climbing high up on the ladder to reach beyond the low hanging fruit.
And he didn’t talk down to them because they were children. In fact, he encouraged them to climb, to pick fruit and have fun.
I have always loved trees. My favorite book as a child was Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I’m old enough to have experienced a childhood before computers where I spent summer days outside sneaking into the neighbor’s yard with the best trees to climb. The old ones, with thick branches like the pear tree my kids were climbing in and around.
Back then we could spend half a day hanging from the branches eating fruit and reveling in the cheap thrill of smashing perfectly good fruit into the ground and throwing rotten “fruit bombs” at unsuspecting neighbor kids.
What we were doing with Luke that day seemed to incorporate those memories for me and taking the message of The Giving Tree to the next level: instead of taking nature for granted and even wasting food, feeding hungry people… A 2014 version of Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree.
Instead of a tree giving selflessly to an ungrateful boy…a tree that is valued in the community and cared for.
“What do you love most about what you do?” I asked Luke.
“We harvest fruit that would otherwise go unused for people who would really enjoy eating it,” he said.
“I love how simple that sounds.” I said.
We bonded for a moment over our mutual disdain for how unnecessarily complicated government makes feeding hungry people can be.
When the tree was picked clean, the kids and I helped carry the ladder and fruit back to Luke’s truck.
Adding our bounty to many other tubs of fruit he had already filled from residential sites.
City Fruit also sells a portion of the fruit to local restaurants to subsidize harvesting.
City Fruit is different from other harvest organizations because they use paid harvesters instead of volunteers because it’s more cost effective.
Every Wednesday, Luke delivers fruit to the pastry kitchen of Chef Tom Douglas (famous Seattle Restaurateur, celebrity chef and patron saint to feeding the hungry) that they will use in some of the mouthwatering desserts.
It was a Wednesday so the kids and I headed for Chef Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Bakery.
“Chef Tom Douglas has been working with City Fruit since the beginning,” Stacy Fortner, pastry chef for Chef Tom Douglas restaurants explained.
“We have already run through all of the City Fruit King figs for the season! We also use grapes, apples, and pears. We usually freeze crab apples and use them a bit later in the fall. Currently we’re making a plum pie with the Italian plums from City Fruits.”
The kids and I had time to reflect on the City Fruit experience at the Dahlia Bakery.
Over a hot slice of delectable Italian Plum pie made fresh that morning from a City Fruit delivery.
“I’m really glad we did this,” Sophie said, “I have a whole different feeling about hipsters…Luke was really nice, and City Fruit is helping feed people who need it most AND this pie is delicious.”
“It’s a bit tart. But the crust is flaky and flavorful.” Amelia critiqued. “But is the fruit okay to eat? What about dogs in the neighborhood who pee on it?”
“I’d much rather eat fruit from my backyard than fruit contaminated with chemicals,” Sophie responded, in that superior tone older sisters use with younger sisters. “Besides dogs don’t pee standing up, Amelia.”
In 2014 Gail passed the City Fruit baton to a new executive director, Catherine (Kate) Morrison.
Kate comes from a background in politics and public health is excited about the future of City Fruit, “City Fruit provides a win-win-win service for tree owners, the city of Seattle, and those in need. We make the greatest and fullest use of Seattle’s available natural resources, preventing unnecessary waste, providing nutritious fruit to those in need, and helping tree owners maintain their trees.”