Okanagan Fruit Tree Project

Have you ever seen fruit just rotting on a tree and thought, “Wow, what a waste?” It was that thought that propelled Casey Hamilton to found the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project.

“I’m a dietician and get a lot of students that come and work with me for practicum experience,” said Casey, “and it just happened I had some current interns and some former interns still in Kelowna that were keen to make it happen.”

Planning began in November 2011 and by June 2012 they were ready to launch. “By then all the people who helped to plan it had moved away, but it was a real labor of love to see it happen,” said Casey.

With no funding whatsoever, Casey was able to attract approximately 70 volunteers to come pick that first season. As a result, they were able to glean nearly 5000 pounds of unwanted fruit and re-distribute it to people who needed it.

By the end of their third season, those numbers had jumped in size to over 4000 volunteers picking more than 37,000 pounds of fruits, nuts and vegetables that are being distributed to close to 40 different local organizations.

“We were really lucky to have the support of the Central Okanagan Foundation,” noted Casey, as the Central Okanagan Foundation gave them a grant to hire a part time coordinator to aid with the organization of volunteers and locations.

From nuts to squash, peaches, plums and apricots, there seems to be no shortage of extra food and no shortage of non-profit community agencies in need.

What makes the project so successful is the way Casey ensures that volunteers really get to enjoy what they’re doing – not only because they get to help others and get free food for themselves, but she works to make it fun for everyone. One look on the groups’ Facebook page shows invitations to potlucks afterwards and the comments about how fun they are.

“We also work with the Canadian Mental Health Organization and bring clients out to help us pick once a week (during the season),” noted Casey, saying that for some, “It offers a more dignified way for them to access food.”

While they originally looked at following the traditional one-third each model for fruit picked, (one-third to the picker, one-third to the tree owner and one third to a charity), that’s not generally the outcome. “Lots of times the owners of the trees already have more than they want so they don’t want any,” said Casey, “and sometimes the pickers are only doing it to help the project, not because they need any either.”

With their fourth season about to start, the next hurdle just might be trying to find somewhere they can use for fruit storage. “It would be great, then we could distribute the fruit year round to those in need,” said Casey.

The Okanagan Fruit Tree Project is always happy to have more volunteers, whether someone wants to go out and pick fruit or has aspirations to do something more managerial or creative.

To find out more, you can visit their website at fruittreeproject.com or visit the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project Facebook page.