I remember hearing about Portland Fruit Tree Project when it was just a seedling in 2006 and thinking it was a brilliant idea. Now it's not just a brilliant idea it's a thriving non-profit dedicated to harvesting fruit that would otherwise be left to fall and rot and getting that fruit to folks who need it. In addition to harvesting parties during the summer and fall (when fruit from all over Portland is collected and sorted) from January through spring PFTP also hosts various workshops on fruit tree pruning and maintenance.
I met up with 30 year old PFTP executive director Katy Kolker -- who started PFTP with her friend Sarah Cogan in 2006 -- a few months ago at the organization's old office and ever since then I've run into her at all sorts of food and farm events around town. Her mom owns the very cool Looking Glass Bookstore in Sellwood and she immediately offered to put in a good word for me for a book reading there when Food Lover's Guide to Portland comes out in the spring.
Kolker was working as an AmeriCorps volunteer for Growing Gardens in 2006 and living in Northeast Portland when she came up with the idea that grew into PFTP. Month after month Kolker would watch fruit in and around her neighborhood go unharvested and turn from ripe to rotten. She approached a few households and asked if she could harvest their trees. Everyone Kolker approached agreed so she organized a group of about 10 people that season to help out. Since then that's been the PFTP mode of operation -- seasonal harvest parties from summer through fall throughout Portland.
PFTP harvest parties take place on weekends and weekdays usually from July through November and generally begin mid-morning and run for two to three hours. The 10 to 15 reserved harvest party spots fill up fast and there is usually a long wait list weeks in advance. Participants meet at a site where PFTP ladders, fruit picking poles and milk crates for packing the fruit are provided.
Once the fruit is picked and sorted the group moves to another nearby site to harvest. For now fruit is collected in a pickup truck that follows the group from site to site but eventually Kolker hopes to utilize cargo bikes for fruit transport. The best quality fruit goes to the Oregon Food Bank and its hunger and relief agencies and the rest is distributed amongst the tree owner and volunteers.
Kolker is quick to add that, "The intention of our program is not to be feeding the food banks. A large part of our programming is to empower people to see their community and the urban ecosystem as a potential food resource and to be an avenue for people to access those resources." For this reason half of the harvest party spots are reserved for low income folks.
In June 2009 PFTP moved to its new location on North Killingworth with onsite composting, tool storage a demonstration garden and offices.
Portland Fruit Tree Project www.portlandfruit.org 1912 NE Killingsworth St. 503.284.6106