Large-Scale Harvest To Find Uses For City’s Fruit

Sep 9, 2016

Volunteers pick apples as part of the Hidden Harvest project in the city.
Credit Rose Tileston / Hidden Harvest

There are 600 fruit-bearing trees in Pittsburgh, according to the most recent municipal forest analysis in 2008. They line streets and grow in parks, but Hana Uman with the nonprofit 412 Food Rescue said much of that fruit rots.

“When we go and check out some of these trees, there’s just often fruit all over the ground,” she said. “So that is fruit that could have been used and just goes to waste.”

The nonprofit has partnered with the city and has permission for volunteers to harvest from about 50 trees Friday and Sunday. In exchange, the city will have access to the nonprofit’s curated map of the trees.

The nonprofit is using fallingfruit.org – a crowdsourced map – and data from Tree Pittsburgh.

Some private property owners are on board too, allowing their trees to be foraged and mapped.

Most fruit bearing trees in the city are apple, but many of those are crabapple. It’s a bitter fruit most people don’t eat off the tree.

“Realistically, they’re not the tastiest of apples,” Uman said. “So it’s not something we want to donate to our nonprofit partners, but still want to be able to use them,” she said.  

Uman said salvageable fruit will be donated to food pantries and homeless shelters, blemished fruit and most of the crabapples will be pressed to be used in a Wiggle Whiskey liqueur for a future fundraiser and the rest will be composted.

The city also owns pear trees, but those will be harvested in October.

City workers do maintain the trees, keeping them from becoming over-grown, but this Friday and Sunday’s harvests will mark the first large-scale effort when it comes to city-owned trees.

The project, called Hidden Harvest, started with volunteers in 2013 picking from backyard trees.

“For the private property owners, a lot of them they can harvest some of the fruit,” Uman said. “But if you have a pretty large apple tree in your yard it can yield 100 to 200 pounds of fruit, which is really a lot for a family.”

In 2015 organizers moved from the city, with Uman and Food Rescue took over. Uman said some park trees were picked from time to time, but no one was actively maintaining the unused trees.

“There wasn’t any knowledge of anyone using the fruit, and if there were areas that fruit was being used or designated for a specific community, we’re not touching any of that,” she said. “The point is to use fruit that is not being used.”