Scoop, lift, dump, rest.
That was the routine of a woman I noticed in her north St. Catharines yard one fall day in 2008.It was obvious she was languishing, just like the pears piled onto a shovel that she was hoisting into yard waste bags.
Slow, deliberate movement after slow, deliberate movement, she cleared her lawn of rotting fruit that had fallen from two towering kieffer pear trees on her boulevard. With a handful of bulging brown paper bags nearby and a seemingly never-ending supply of spoiled pears still to scoop, it was tough not to be struck by the waste of it all.
The following year, inspired by an urban foraging movement in Toronto, The Garden of Eating — Niagara was born. It was the solution to having all those pears growing beautifully all summer only to meet the unglamourous end of being compost.
Teams of volunteers were organized to harvest unwanted fruit — or anything else edible — growing in people’s yards and then deliver it to local social organizations who could use it. Since 2009, those efforts have seen nearly 6,000 pounds of fresh food going to soup kitchens, shelters and food banks — places where there is usually a dearth of anything that isn’t canned, boxed or shrink-wrapped.
Kieffer pears have been used in canning how-tos, as the star ingredient in crisp served at a soup kitchen and in a supporting role to pork at a women's shelter. Students with the local Catholic board have jarred hundreds of pounds of them, the result donated to a local food bank.
Peaches have been offered up in baskets on tables, ripe for eating fresh at shelters. Mulberries, apples, grapes and tomatoes have also been spared being kicked to the curb in compost bags, going instead to agencies that have found creative uses for them.
St. Catharines’ Ozanam Centre, the shelter at Southridge Church, Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, the YWCA, Gillian’s Place and Project Share in Niagara Falls have been on the receiving end of those harvests.
It beats the routine of scoop, lift, dump, rest. Still, there's more to picked and more to be donated. We have no doubt there is a plum tree or two or three, whose efforts bearing fruit this year were for naught, out there. Ditto for the grapevines of overwhelmed owners who turn green at the thought of eating more of their purple fruit. Plenty more pear trees that we have yet to discover abound.
If you have one and would like to see the fruits of their labours put to a good use — and avoid a messy yard — we're more than happy to send a picking crew your way.
The Garden of Eating - Niagara is a registered non-profit organization that divides harvests evenly between homeowners and social organizations of their choice, with a share going to volunteers as a reward for their hard work.
We can't wait to get picking in your yard.