While living in Portland, Megan Nuismer saw a organization that gleaned fruit from cherry trees on her block. After moving to New Orleans, where she began working at Hollygrove Market, she had people call in wanting to donate from their fruit trees. She put the two ideas together and began the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project. Now a food sourcing specialist at the Second Harvest Food Bank, she devotes considerable time and effort to providing nutritious food to New Orleanians.
Geordan Lightfoot Smith, the harvest and volunteer coordinator, travels all over the Greater New Orleans area as he guides volunteers through their fruit picking experiences. He works closely with homeowners to determine the fruit’s ideal ripeness, schedule a convenient time for harvest and oversee his volunteers. I spoke with both Nuismer and Smith to learn more about their dynamic program.
Fruit Gleaning 101
Small groups of volunteers can collect a surprising amount of fruit. The volunteers, who range from high school students to adults, use 12-foot-long fruit pickers to reach high branches while staying safely on the ground. A typical fruit gathering can yield around 100 to 600 pounds of produce.
The Harvest’s Benefits
The Fruit Tree Project serves hundreds of local food pantries, and the 10,000 pounds of produce they have gathered gets sent to metro area and many of the parishes they serve, benefiting around 210,000 people in a year. Fresh produce is one of the most requested foods that food pantries serve.
“It’s important to get fresh fruit year-round,” says Nuismer, adding that it’s particularly crucial for the elderly and disadvantaged populations served by food pantries. In addition, some of the local food harvested from the Fruit Tree Project is used in Second Harvest’s kitchen. For example, loquats (also known as japonicas, misbeliefs or Japanese plums) harvested in Uptown were made into a jam that was used in a dish prepared for seniors.
Furthermore, the fruit tree owners are often thrilled to contribute to the South Louisiana community in this unique way. “The owners are happy to see how much fruit they can donate of that value,” says Smith.
At this time, the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project is looking to increase its output and gather even more fruit from more trees. Interested fruit tree owners are encouraged to reach out to the Fruit Tree Project for information about gleanings. Although their harvest is primarily citrus, they have also collected other fruits, and the volunteers are available year-round. This growing project is eager to increase its infrastructure as well as obtain a van for delivery purposes. Therefore, donors are also welcome to help with monetary donations or tools.