Feasting For Change in this amazing community!: a reflection on 2020 from Feasting for Change coordinator Belinda Geisler

This spring I was so nervous, wondering if it would be possible to run any of the Feasting for Change programs, as for this I was asking people to come together, voluntarily, and work together to help grow, and gather food that could help feed us all. Suddenly though, the need to feed ourselves without bringing that food in from outside became a priority, not just for me personally, but for our community as a whole.

I looked at all our projects, the Fruit Tree Project, Grow it Forward Garden, Seed Library and Crabapple Project, and thought hard about how to make it all work, eliminating all the indoor workshops and focusing on the bare bones of our projects: keeping bears wild, while feeding our community.

What I didn’t expect was the number of people that were not only willing but wanting to donate their time and energy to our projects. We’ve always had an amazing rotating crew of volunteers, some that have been with us from the beginning and some who are still, to make it to a fruit harvest, or garden workshop. But this summer we had a bunch of fresh faces join us and stick it out to the end. At our 22 fruit tree harvests, we had 45 different volunteers gift us their time, many of them came to several harvests, (be warned, it’s addictive) and we ended up counting 124 “volunteer occurrences”.

The grand total of 3,364 lbs of fruit is proof of all the hard work our volunteers put in, not to mention the trust that tree owners showed in allowing us to come to their property and harvest their trees. We had several firsts this summer that need to be celebrated in and of themselves: We took on our first farm, harvesting over 300 lbs of blueberries from a farm that struggled to get their usual crew of workers in to manage them.

We also had one of our largest ever harvests where we took on 11 trees, in a single harvest, getting over 600 lbs of apples and pears. As our final harvest of the year it felt like the perfect covid friendly fruit party: 26 adults and 10 kids all keeping to their bubbles by taking on a tree each, happily chatting from between the branches, while the owner was blown away that we got them all cleared in a single morning.

It’s possible that as people were working from home, more bears got caught in the act of accessing fruit trees, and so we got several new properties signed up to our fruit tree project. This kept me on my toes, as each property needed a plan. However, it also meant we could flow from cherries, to apples, to blueberries, to plums, grapes, back to apples, crabapples, and finally pears and more apples. Those that came to multiple harvests now have wonderfully full freezers full of local free fruit. The project works quite simply; we pick the fruit and split it 3 ways, one third goes back to the owner of the tree, one third goes to the volunteers that pick the fruit, and one third gets donated to be shared further.

Usually we try to have a network of local social groups (like the seniors) who can take fruit from us after a harvest and then divide it up and distribute it. With the restrictions in place this year we scaled back and focused on donating to the Food Bank.

The Food Bank needs to be celebrated to the fullest here, expanding and attempting to reach and fill the needs all over our community and into the surrounding areas. We are so, so lucky to have such a dedicated crew able to adapt and address the needs that arise. Without them, our community simply couldn’t thrive.

The bi-weekly harvests from the Grow it Forward Gardens became quite the social morning (in a safely monitored, spaced out kind of way). Last year we had 18 volunteers over the course of the season, this season we had 38. The garden itself always provided a fun treasure hunt. I think some of our volunteers came just to see where the cucumber vines had wandered off to next, or if the beans or toddlers had grown more in the 2 weeks between harvests! Either way, they put in the efforts and we reaped the rewards. This summer we donated a record 650 lbs of fresh locally grown vegetables of the food bank. While we always offer food from the garden to our volunteers, most were content to take home the “weeds” and try out things like purslane smoothies, or chickweed and carrot top pesto. I know that without the dedication of these guys (you know who you are!) we would not have had nearly as successful of a season. Even on the muggy, buggy days they were there, working hard, periodically jumping in the air and running out for a bug break, or slapping ourselves with rutabaga leaves to keep going “Just to weed to the end of this patch”. They were true garden heroes.

With the library closing down right in the midst of planting season and seeds running into short supply, I rescued the Seed Library and attempted to create a virtual inventory and contactless pick up system to make sure that this project could continue to make food-growing an option for everyone and anyone. What I didn’t expect was that again this community saw it as an opportunity to fill the need, and ended up donating almost more than was given out from the library. (Which is perfect, as the seed library depends on people ‘returning’ their seeds to keep it stocked for the next library patron). We always try and include seed harvesting in our grow it forward garden harvests, which helps to keep the library stocked.

Most in jeopardy was the re-invented crabapple project. While we may not have crabapple trees lining our main street (I’m looking forward to experimenting with lilac jelly btw), we do have a number of them in backyards. Last year we helped keep the bears out of harm’s way by harvesting the crabapples, but we inundated our fruit distributors and saw the potential for a scaled-down version. While we made close to 500 jars of jelly, unfortunately, we were unable to include volunteers and people dropping in to investigate the smells of jelly-making. We’re hopeful that the jelly travels further than we can right now and maybe encourages other communities to start looking at their fruit trees more as an asset than an inconvenience. As there’s limited supply of jelly this year, I’d recommend stocking up!

The support these projects get not only from volunteers but also from partners and sponsors keeps them ticking along, evolving, growing, and changing. These include the Whistler Community Foundation, The Pemberton Wildlife Association, Sea to Sky Soils, West Coast Seeds, the Pemberton Legion Branch 201, Blueshore Financial (Donation Program), the Fall Clothing Swap, Pilates Integrated, and the donations from the blueberry harvest. Each of these places has donated various amounts to various projects – together they make all our Feasting for Change Programs possible.

As I’m looking into winter, I’m so grateful to be here, in this community, where so many people are willing to come together to help us all – the people, the wildlife, the community as a whole – to grow, and harvest our own food, and, of course, eat jelly!

If you’re interested in getting involved in any of the above projects for next summer, please email pembyfruittree@gmail.com or visit stewardshippemberton.com

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