Here’s an idea that could be replicated up and down the country, the “scrumping project” by OrganicLea. OrganicLea is an organised group of allotment holders in Walthamstow with community spirit, enthusiasm and above all iniative.
It’s an abiding and alluring image in our culture, of fruit in such abundance that you can just reach out and pick it straight off the tree – but something we tend to associate with warmer climates or spiritual utopias, certainly not with inner city life.
Well the London borough of Waltham Forest may not be the Garden of Eden, but it does have apple and pear trees in abundance. And this year, a few tonnes more of that delicious fruit were picked and distributed around the borough rather than leaving them to rot on the trees or fall to the ground and attract the wasps.
Organiclea’s ‘scrumping project’ brought small teams of fruit pickers to local residents who were finding themselves unable to pick or make use of all the fruit on their trees. The project received funding to collect unwanted fruit from trees and distribute surplus locally through food and nutrition clubs and community market stalls.
During 2003 and 2004, Organiclea ran a pilot for the project, mainly picking from street trees or neighbours and acquaintances. But we estimated that around 1 in 4 detached or semi-detached houses had fruit trees in the garden, and that there was potential for a larger scale project. So this year we advertised widely in the borough and had a good response. We found that the people we picked from would tell their friends or neighbours about the scheme, and the community market stalls where we sold the apples or pressed them into juice also made good publicity for the picking side of the project.
Over 30 trees were picked from this year. They ranged from street trees and pub gardens, to residents who were housebound and unable to pick themselves, and pear-tree owners who were sadly not that keen on pears… We discovered a beautiful Victorian kitchen garden with orchard and hothouse but lacking the full-time gardener it would once have had. We discussed varieties, exchanged recipes, found out about the history of different areas of the borough and were inspired by the community connections that could be made – the yield was far greater than a few bicycle-trailer loads of fruit.
We picked with basket pickers, ladders, by climbing the trees, by shaking them and trying to catch the fruit.. we haven’t perfected our techniques and next year we will definitely invest in some nets and maybe hard hats too.. and try to involve a wider variety of people and groups in the picking.
We also learnt by our mistakes on storage – apples were much easier than pears, but there was a huge difference between varieties as to how well they keep. At one point we were certainly in danger of living up to our publicity strapline ‘more apples and pears than you can handle?’. But borrowing the East London Organic Gardeners’ apple press for a local food festival was a fantastic way to get lots of apples distributed quickly, and provide a lot of compost waste that could go back into the soil. We were also able to offer tasty local fruit to parents in a Surestart food and nutrition club to add to the organic vegetables we distribute there.
And of course, we took part in the celebration of apples on Apple Day at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow. Many local residents added their trees to a map on which we are starting to identify the many varieties growing in the borough, and build up the scrumping project for an even greater yield next year.