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4 Ways to Share the Season’s Harvest (and Make Friends Doing It)

Guerrilla grafting, crop mobs, and other ways to make the fruits of your labor go further.

1. Guerrilla Grafters

Like many cities, San Francisco planted thousands of ornamental trees along its streets that flower but don’t bear fruit. When Tara Hui tried to plant a fruit-producing tree on the city-owned parking strip outside her home, the city objected even though she promised to harvest the fruit and keep the ground clear underneath the tree. Determined to prove that fruit growing on public land is a public benefit, 41-year-old Hui started (illegally) grafting branches of fruit-producing tree varieties onto their sterile counterparts. The idea caught on, and Guerilla Grafters was born.

The group’s anonymous members have grafted apricots, nectarines, apples, cherries, pears, and plums onto about 50 public trees. Each grafted tree has a committed guerilla caretaker who collects fallen fruit. The trees are now in their second year and bearing fruit for anyone to take, sharing nature’s bounty and furthering the group’s tongue-in-cheek mission of “undoing civilization, one branch at a time.”

2. Neighborhood Fruit connects homeowners whose trees produce more than they can use with people who are willing to harvest free fruit. Owners register their trees on the website’s database, which can be searched according to tree location, type, and what’s in season. Harvesters sign waivers to protect landowners from liability and arrange convenient times to pick fruit or collect boxes of produce. The website has more than 10,000 trees registered nationwide, and users add more daily.

3. Glean it Forward

Food Forward in Southern California practices “fruitanthropy,” organizing volunteers to harvest surplus farm produce for donation. According to the National Resources Defense Council, a quarter of food produced on American farms is discarded at harvest: aesthetically “imperfect” produce doesn’t go to market, and farmers overplant to buffer the effects of weather and fluctuating prices.

CropMobster is another organization that addresses waste by inviting farms to offer donations and advertise gleaning events and clearance deals on food fresh from the field. The amounts of food saved are impressive. Volunteers organized through CropMobster gleaned 1,000 pounds of kale from California’s Bloomfield Farms in just one day.

4. Grow a Row, Give a Row

Summer and fall can be a time of overabundance in the garden, when the chard, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes all ripen at once. Most gardeners give their surplus produce to friends and neighbors, but some go a step further and supply local food banks, soup kitchens, and sheltered housing with free, fresh, often organically grown fruit and vegetables.

Some gardeners create an intentional abundance to share. Gardeners who “grow a row to give a row” plant a little more than they expect they’ll need for their own household, and combine their efforts with gardening neighbors to collect produce and make regular donations throughout the season. Community efforts can produce significant volume. The owners of two-acre Maris Farm in upstate New York grow food for people who often don’t have access to fresh produce. With the help of volunteers, many from local Hamilton College, they harvest enough to donate half their crop every year—900 lbs in 2012.

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