Urban Gleaning (fruit picking) Group Coordination

Urban gleaning, or fruit picking, groups have become common in most major cities. Typically the fruit is donated by a neighbour with a fruit tree in their yard, and shared between the volunteers and food banks or events. I wanted to share what I’ve learned from three years of volunteering as a coordinator for one of these groups, Out of Your Tree in Saskatoon. 

It’s a lot of work to setup and coordinate the fruit tree owners, volunteers, and fruit donations. Here are some keys to running it in a more sustainable way:

  • Support from well established non-profit organizations to partner with for various needs.
  • Digitizing the fruit tree addresses and volunteers info. Checkout the free tools below.
  • Distributing the coordination workload by neighbourhood. Have a neighbourhood coordinator.
  • Have fruit tree owners email when their tree is ready to be picked.
  • Follow up on owners whether you can or cannot setup a harvest date.
  • Promotional (conferences, mainstream TV/Radio interviews, print), educational (canning classes, children group outings), and social events to engage volunteers and tree owners.

I used free online tools that anyone with some digital experience can use, namely: Mailchimp, Google Drive (Sheets, Google Forms, Google Docs), WordPress.com. The sole cost was approximately $15/year for domain name of our website.

Some of the fruit picking equipment we used include: tarp, ladder, rake, bags/baskets/crates, telescopic painting pole with a fruit picker end, bicycle trailer.

The most challenging thing about coordinating was to get volunteers to come out. It’s almost like luck of the draw, sometimes it worked well on weekends, week nights, or week days. I think it’s highly dependent on volunteer demographics. The demographics for my harvests was very diverse, which made it difficult. One thing that always worked was to get at least one or two keener volunteers to commit to each picking.

Three things I would’ve tried given the opportunity:

  • Dedicate and pre-schedule one or two days a week where there will always be a picking. This may work better for more established gleaning groups.
  • Organized social events for coordinators and volunteers to share picking stories and tips. This is one thing that could help motivate the great work and form a stronger intentional community.
  • Automating a notification process that starts off with a tree owner reporting that their tree is ready for picking to scheduling the harvest with volunteers.

I hope this post provides some insights into setting up or improving an existing urban fruit picking community. If you have any challenges or suggestions please share them below. Let’s help these groups become more sustainable, succeed and have less wasted healthy food!

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