Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Growing a better tomorrow: City Fruit cultivates Seattle's urban orchard

Share this Post:
Photo courtesy of City Fruit
Photo courtesy of City Fruit

Washington accounts for around 70% of the nation's apple production. Cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, and many other fruits thrive here as well, constituting large export shipments every year and cementing Washington as a fruit-production stronghold. But the confines of Seattle proper likely do not come to mind for most locals when thinking of the state's agricultural prowess.

City Fruit is a nonprofit based in Fremont that grew from a small group of community-minded volunteers to an organization of more than 500 members, who see Seattle as an urban orchard of large ecological potential. The SGN had the opportunity to connect with CF's staff and learn about the group's mission, volunteer opportunities, and exciting "Master Fruit Tree Steward" program, beginning this spring.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

City Fruit's mission
Seattle's temperate climate (exempting the extreme weather of the past year) tends to consist of "pretty mild winters and summers," said Tiare Gill, CF's community growth and impact manager.

"Seattle is unique in that there is so much variation in our urban fruit canopy," she added. Many homeowners have fruit trees in their backyards, and additionally, Seattle is "home to public orchards located within public parks, community gardens, p-patches, and other types of green space."

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

Gill believes that "the history of these existing orchards provides an important connection to the land for people." She said that "especially today, when food justice efforts are rapidly growing, preexisting urban growing spaces can inspire the development of new ones and support communities in growing their own food in a hyperlocal and community-specific way."

And CF assists with just this: lessons and group volunteering encompass pruning, pest management, tree identification, fruit harvesting, and many additional aspects of community tree care.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

Access to fresh fruit is vital to every community, and to that end, CF serves as "the only organization in the city that consistently provides fresh fruit during the harvest season (July-October) to food banks and meal programs across the city," said Annie Nguyen, CF's executive director. The organization helps "tree owners grow healthy fruit, provide assistance in harvesting and preserving fruit, promote the sharing of extra fruit, and work to protect urban fruit trees," according to its mission statement.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

Master Fruit Tree Steward Program
CF's Master Fruit Tree Steward Program consolidates many aspects of the organization's daily work — educating community members and maintaining local fruit trees — into a comprehensive curriculum.

The program caters to participants' interest in "becoming a steward either because they have fruit trees of their own and are interested in learning how to take care of them" or "to support the collective urban canopy," said Gill. Lessons focus on "fruit trees that already grow in the Greater Seattle area, including cherries, apples, plums, pears, figs, peaches, grapes, persimmon, quince, kiwis, and pawpaws."

The program's workshops begin in March and run through October and are typically slated for the second Saturday of each month, usually from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They "cover one of the program learning topics: fruit tree grafting; pruning; mulching and companion planting; thinning, bagging, and netting; fruit tree ID; harvest; and orchard cleanup and cider press," said Gill.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

"For COVID safety, class size will be limited to 15 participants, and all classes will be held outdoors," she added.

The lessons' focus can be hyperspecific, a testament to the unique needs of certain local fruits. Stone fruit and non-stone fruit require individualized pruning methods; apple and pear trees necessitate special pest management to keep fruit pest-free, so the specifics of the workshops tie into CF's goals of localized knowledge and community power in ecological stewardship.

Certain workshops skills lend themselves to larger conversations about "what plants pair well together and offer a mutually beneficial growing environment, but we can also discuss which plants people might enjoy for other reasons, such as aesthetics, medicinal uses, or other cultural significance," explained Gill.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

Though the pandemic initially put a halt to volunteer activities, CF has been running scaled-down events with limited participation (5-10 people) since September 2020. "More families and individuals have found themselves in a position where they need access to food banks and meal programs," said Nguyen, so the important work of volunteers is definitely needed to support operations.

In terms of demand, volunteer tasks vary depending on the season (off-harvest season is January to May).

Right now, CF has "a few hundred pounds of frozen fruit" that the staff hope to "make into jams, preserves, shrubs, chutneys, and more." Volunteers can help create shelf-stable products.

Photo courtesy of City Fruit  

CF is also working on outreach to community partners and groups. Part of this work includes publishing website materials for people that are non-native English speakers, vision impaired, and/or hearing impaired. Volunteers who "may have second-language experience and could help with either primary translations or secondary proof-reading of materials" are welcome.

For harvest-specific volunteering, more opportunities will arise come spring.

The registration fee for the MFTS program is $375, which covers all materials and a CF T-shirt. CF offers both full and partial scholarships. Applicants can apply at https://bit.ly/3FjM3o4, or can learn more by contacting [email protected]. More information on volunteering is available at https://www.cityfruit.org/volunteer-city-fruit.