A community project that began two years ago with 10 volunteers is now causing a fruit explosion across the city.
Whether it’s rhubarb in Riverview, apples in Charleswood, crab apples in Tyndall Park or pears in Transcona — Fruit Share has grown rapidly since its seeds were first sown by Riverview resident and professional home economist Getty Stewart in 2010.
The program targets Winnipeg residents with excess fruit growing in their yards that may not have time or capacity to harvest it all.
The yield is split between the homeowner, volunteer fruit pickers and community organizations in need, including Siloam Mission, Fred Tipping Place and Winnipeg Harvest.
Last year, 7,386 pounds of fruit was harvested compared to 1,694 pounds in 2010 — an increase of 436%. In the same period, the number of fruit owners (homeowners) leapt from 28 to 153 — a jump of 546%.
Stewart said there are now more than 275 volunteers on board, so "chances are very good that your fruit will get harvested. We can’t promise all requests will be filled, but we do promise to circulate every request to our volunteers."
And if this hasn’t been enough to keep her busy, the mother-of-two-turned-author recently launched the Prairie Fruit Cookbook – The Essential Guide for Picking, Preserving and Preparing Fruit at McNally Robinson Booksellers.
Stewart said sales have been steady with 450 already sold. The book has topped the non-fiction bestseller list at McNally Robinson for the past two weeks since the official launch.
"My work with Fruit Share and its tremendous growth has shown me that there is a renewed interest in our prairie fruit. It has also shown me that many people don’t know what to do with it or how to best enjoy it," Stewart said.
Volunteer Katie Anderson — a St. Boniface resident and neighbourhood team leader for southeast Winnipeg — said the program attracts a variety of helpers who are united by a common goal.
"Some love meeting people; some love climbing trees and being active; others want to give back and others are into canning and baking," Anderson said. "It’s a nice connection with the community. You meet lots of characters and it helps if you’re a character yourself."
Stewart said the magic of Fruit Share is rooted in the spirit of giving and sharing.
"It makes people feel good to share their surplus fruit, help a neighbour, harvest a tree and to literally share the fruits of their labour," she said.
"Our goal is to ensure existing fruit that’s growing in our backyards gets used. By creating awareness, providing education and offering a fruit rescuing service, we hope we can accomplish that. If we can help other communities do the same, that’s awesome."
For more information, visit www.fruitshare.ca. Prairie Fruit Cookbook – The Essential Guide for Picking, Preserving and Preparing Fruit, priced at $19.95 plus GST, is available at McNally Robinson, St. Mary’s Nursery and Garden Centre, Sage Herb Gardens and online at www.prairiefruit.ca.