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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Fruit in the City

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In this week’s Eye Weekly, I wrote about a new organization starting this summer called Not Far From the Tree. The brainchild of fruit tree enthusiast Laura Reinsborough (who says she got the idea from similar projects successful in other cities), Not Far From the Tree’s “aim is to match volunteer fruit pickers with fruit tree owners who don’t have the time to harvest their trees’ bounty. One third of the fruit will go to the owners; another third will go to the volunteers and the remainder will be donated to local community organizations, such as food banks and shelters.”

You can read the full story here.

I interviewed Laura and Heritage Horticulturalist Wendy Woodworth a couple weekends ago at Spadina Museum on one of the first warm days of spring. Laura first got hooked on the idea of harvesting fruit grown in the city after volunteering to pick fruit grown in the heritage gardens at the museum last summer. Each weekend, she would bike the bounty over to the Green Barns Farmers Market to sell for nominal price. But making money wasn’t really the point.

“It was more or less an educational tool, to show people what organically, or neglectfully, grown apples looked like. But also we have all these heritage varieties that people don’t normally see,” Wendy said. “It also played into the historical aspect of the grounds where the family did sell the food.”

Laura kept a blog of her experiences last summer, which is also now Not Far From the Tree’s website. The site is full of useful fruit-tree-related links, including links to organizations that have started similar urban fruit harvesting projects elsewhere. It also includes updates on Not Far From the Tree’s progress to date.

During our interview, Laura mentioned that she was interested in hearing about others’ experiences with fruit trees in the city.

“At seedy Saturday, we had a booth and I was looking for fruit tree stories. About half the stories were, ‘well my neighbour never harvests his pears and they just rot there and they stink and he won’t let you touch them!’ The other half were, ‘oh I love to pick apples!’” she said.

Any Spacing readers have a fruit-tree-related story to share? A fear of falling apples? Failed efforts to grow lemons or pears? Animals that feast in your backyard? Attempts to eat neighbourhood apples? We’d love to hear them!



  1. Once, our neighbor left a large bucket of lemons from his backyard tree on our stoop. He also told us we could pick the fruit. Recently I picked two large lemons and baked a Shaker Lemon Pie. It was delicious – more than delicious because the lemons came from a nearby backyard, not the grocery store.

    Last summer I picked a lot of cherries and plums from sidewalk trees in Berkeley. I know of two loquat trees, one fig tree, and two peach trees and hope to pick some this year.

    Growing up we had an orchard in our backyard: mangoes, avocados, sweetsop, lime, apple, jule plum, and cherry. I grew up in Jamaica. Many of our clothes bore stains from juicy mangoes.

  2. I grew up in a house in North York with four fruit trees (Apple, Cherry, Peach & Pear) and a large grape vine in the backyard. We never sprayed anything for bugs, but it never really mattered. The cherries were great, as long as they ripened at the same time as the Mulberry tree out front. That way the birds would go after the easy to digest Mulberries while we got the cherries. Some years there was a gap between the Mulberries and the Cherries, and then the birds would get most of the fruit from both trees.
    The Apples were similar to a red delicious, but too tart and small for eating. There were great for baking. My mom would mix some of the pears in with the apples to create appear pies.
    Similarly, the peaches were mostly used in baking, as there were rather small.
    My favorite were the grapes. They were really wine grapes, and had a very thick skin. When they were ripe, you’d pinch the grape and shoot the centre into your mouth, and throw away the skin.

    Nowadays, the only wild fruit I see is a small apple tree growing wild on the side of Main St just north of the GO station. Next fall I should try an apple, I wish the city would prune fruit trees so they’d grow better.

  3. Oy, I forgot about the Raspberry patch! It was tucked into a corner of the backyard, but the canes would spread like crazy. Usually good for two crops of berries in the summer, so plenty of picking and jams.

  4. Funny. This has me wondering if kids experience the revenge of the runs anymore. It seemed a rite of passage in my childhood .. to be repeated annually if not when each fruit came to ripen.
    Alas the ditches where the wild strawberries grew have been all paved over. The raspberry thickets have thinned to a few canes and what is left of the wild cherries and apples bears very little fruit anymore.
    I’ve spied the leeks and my brother recently reminded me sharing a room was less than pleasant when I was exploring the dietary benefits they bore. I never did find the fruit of the “wild potato”.
    Beechnuts and puffballs signalled the end of season. Oddly though fruit production seems to have fallen off in and about my childhood digs the puffball has become more prevalent. Many credit the former to increased use of road de-icers. With the failure of fruiting trees the fungi will persist and only as leaves fall and frost fails will these exist.
    Not to be outdone the bush wildflowers have changed. The hills were once paved with the oval brown on green leaves with the somewhat inverted deer camouflage pattern of dog toothed violets. Stamens strained wantonly as the seemingly impossibly fragile yellow petals peeled back rolling over themselves to expose their goodness.
    Adults told me of how white trilliums once were frequent but rich wine red ones then prevailed. I fear both are less common than they’d been but the white do seem to be predominant over the red again.
    Bloodroot’s evasive flower over an oddly shaped irregular lobed leaf seems just as evasive as ever.
    The comedic “jack in the pulpit” seems unphased by the fuss and may indeed be proliferating.
    But that is one bush.

  5. There used to be an apple tree at the corner of John St and Adelaide.Every fall I would enjoy one of the apples that seemed to be left to their own demise.Sometimes a “homeless individual” would also pick an apple.Just a little treat in an ever expanding city without “fruit trees”.
    Sadly the tree was cut down,I think the patio patrons were annoyed by those strangers picking apples LOLOLOL.