I have been searching for these people for a while. Sometimes I would hear rumors about folks interested in better utilizing our fragmented urban orchard but I had not been able to track them down or in any way substantiate their existence until Seedy Saturday 2012. Branches bearing a website enticed people with the simple phrase, “Got fruit, want fruit?” were placed among the vendors. I immediately asked the organizers who they were. An hour or so later, they appeared in front of the Canadian Organic Growers’ booth. At last I had faces and names to attach to the idea.
Meet Katrina Siks, Jason Garlough and friends:
Jason and Katrina are on the left with some friends (who I'm sure will do their share of harvesting) on the right.
What is Hidden Harvest?
Among the parked cars, businesses and homes of Ottawa are a multitude of trees that flower and bear fruit or nuts only to unceremoniously drop to the ground and be raked up for disposal. At the same time, organizations like Just Food are looking for ways to improve the availability of good quality food for everyone in the city including those in need.
Connecting this disconnect, Katrina and Jason are creating a hub where tree owners, volunteer harvesters and community groups like the Ottawa Food Bank can work together to share the bounty.
How was this idea born?
Katrina, a self confessed outdoors type, become inspired to be involved in community forests while listening to Merrickville's Diana Beresford-Kroger talk about the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a non-profit organization that collects and archives native tree genetics from the wild. Diana wishes to conserve the genetic diversity of rare trees and plants including those that give medicine and food.
Jason was born on a farm where trees provided fodder, fuel, protection and food. He was puzzled when he arrived in Ottawa to discover that many urban folk saw trees – especially those that bear fruit – as a nuisance. After all, innovators are coming up with creative ideas to incorporate more food production into the city such as proposals to build multistoried, vertical green houses. They’re modeling the tree, he pointed out, which not only gives you food but is attractive, cleans the air, moderates climate, and requires minimal care.
They met at a Wild Edibles Course run by the knowledgeable Martha Webber. Though they enjoyed the trips out of the city to collect wild foods, it was even more enjoyable to collect grapes at the allotment gardens and to pick mushrooms from alongside the bike path. Gathering apples from old trees to make into cider, including one near the Canada Revenue Agency, got them thinking about all the other underused fruit and nut trees in Ottawa.
The idea of an Ottawa based project like Not Far From the Tree Toronto had been bubbling for some time. It just needed some people with the time and energy to do the organizing. What better time then when the city was facing the loss of up to 25% of its tree cover to the Emerald Ash Borer. Could what replaced these old trees help to feed the city instead of merely shade it? Before embarking on such an investment, a structure needed to be in place to care for the trees.
How does it work?
Through their website, tree owners, organizations, business and other interested parties can post about their needs and wants. “I have an apple tree.” “We’d like to host a harvest event” “Me too!” They will help connect together the right people and provide trailers, pickers, tools and training. The harvest will be weighed and sorted with 25% going to the owner, 25% to the volunteers, 25% to the nearest in-need agency and the remaining 25% making it back to Hidden Harvest for processing to help raise funds for the organization.
This year, they are looking for lead harvesters to coordinate harvest events along with tree owners(s) and other volunteers in 3-4 neighbourhoods in Ottawa to start off. The locations will largely be selected based on volunteer support.
Don’t have a tree? No problem as they will be researching tried and true cultivars to sell in the Ottawa area to be available sometimes this summer.
Tell me about the award from Awesome Ottawa.
It’s hard to explain what the Awesome grants are without resorting to the word awesome as the common thread for these one-time 1000 dollar grants. With this extra cash, Katrina and Jason plan on buying some bike trailers to help tote around their tools and harvest.
So when does it start?
The city of Ottawa has expressed their support and provided them with an inventory of 4000 known edible fruit and nut trees growing on city land including various apples, serviceberry, cherries, gingko – yes the smelly ones, Turkish hazel and more. The first harvest event is planned to collect serviceberries in June.