As the spring of 2011 started, we launched into our first full year of fruit rescue. It was a work of commitment to nature by Christina and Carol at this stage. Christina found the unused fruit by peering over fences in the back lanes of our neighbourhood or talking to people as she went about her business. After getting the homeowners permission she struck out with her pails and picked rhubarb. She found that there is quite a variety of rhubarb, varying from all green to those with red lower stems and finally the ruby treasures that are dark red from top to bottom. Carol helped with the picking at the beginning but as the quantity increased, she stayed inside and did the preparation of the fruit, creation of recipes and the preserving.
It all moved rather quickly as you have seen from previous posts. The idea of fruit rescue caught on and people were calling to offer their unused fruit. As the volume of harvested rhubarb exceeded 200 lbs we began to worry about how the pair of us were going to be able to deal with the huge volume of cherries, pears, apples and crab apples that were swelling on the trees. We posted on a number of volunteer sites asking for help with picking and processing. We waited and heard nothing until a call came from the Winnifred Stewart Association. They provide residential and day programming to adults with developmental disabilities here in Edmonton. Lynn Wade asked how we could work together as they were looking for community based programs and was confident that the jobs of picking fruit in the neighbourhood and doing food preparation would appeal to a number of volunteers in their programs. PERFECT! we all shouted then we worked to see how we would make the plan happen.
From our side of the partnership we found strong and willing workers to pick cherries, apples, pears and crab apples. Christina moved from being the prime picker to coordinating dates and permission with homeowners and getting crews and equipment ready for picking days. Our new volunteers harvested boxes of fruit - threatening to overload the production and storage capabilities of our kitchen. This crew also built lovely relationships with homeowners as they cleaned up the fallen fruit as well as picking prime fruit from the trees. They were rewarded by some of our residents with snacks to sustain them in their work. Inside our kitchen a crew of skilled volunteers worked tirelessly to wash, sort, peel, slice, and prepare all this fruit for preserving. At first Carol didn't know how to use all this help as she had been a one person operation to date. But this soon got sorted out and production increased. The atmosphere changed as well. The volunteers from Winnifred Stewart came with staff who each also brought stories and soon the kitchen was full of talking, music and the joy of working with nature, preparing food and doing valuable work. Finally - it was fun (and exhausting) for all. With the bounty of the fruit, each day usually ended with volunteers taking home some of the fresh fruit to use or share - so it was perfect for everyone.
Here is a link to a video prepared by Nancy Remple in her series of Edmonton Community League initiatives that highlights our story. I hope it gives you a glimpse of the energy of the volunteers, the beauty of our fruit trees in the backyards of Sherbrooke, Edmonton, Alberta and our shared vision of 'rescuing fruit'.