Walk around anywhere in Whatcom County in August and September and you’ll notice dahlias blooming, families biking around, and more apples than anyone knows what to do with. Those apples are often found in abundance in backyards, city parks, and on the sides of main roads and alleys alike. And while some folks are able to harvest, process, and consume all their apples, many more are not. Whether it’s lack of time, resources, or simply awareness, a large quantity of fruit goes to waste every season.
Steve Gaber, founder of NW Fruit Rescue, saw a potential solution: a new nonprofit that would harvest neglected fruit and distribute it to food banks.. Steve found his inspiration for this project after volunteering with the City of Bellingham, though his path to the nonprofit world – and agriculture in general – has been rich and varied.
As he recalls, “I had a forty year career in engineering and retired ten years ago, then started a business with my son, Mount Baker Mining and Metals. I never had any idea retirement would turn out to be a second career, but it did. I got interested in agriculture and nonprofit work through my connection with Dave at Alma Cider, and then common interests with Cloud Mountain Farm Center. I started my boots-on-the-ground work by volunteering with the City of Bellingham doing severe pruning on all the fruit trees in the city parks. They hadn’t been tended to for fifteen years, so we really cut them back. They’re all responding extremely well.”
Spending so much time in city parks, Steve was struck by the amount of fruit that was wasted. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we harvest the fruit and give it to the food bank?’ Well, it sounds like a good idea, but how are we going to do that? And then I wondered, ‘Why stop with just the City?’ The more I thought about it, the more I had an interest in developing some sort of grassroots, guerilla, apple-picking cadre that goes out and picks all the fruit that ends up going to waste, and gives it to the food bank.”
The seeds of NW Fruit Rescue were planted, and soon grew into a collaborative effort across Whatcom and Skagit counties. “I learned that half or more of that fruit isn’t good enough for human consumption,” Steve explains. “Through working with Dave at Alma Cider, Elizabeth at Cloud Mountain, Skagit Gleaners, the food banks, and Steph and Jesse at Barmann Cellars, and it’s now evolved into a formal nonprofit organization, NW Fruit Rescue. This year, we’re just figuring out how this whole program works, promoting it, finding out where the trees are, getting volunteers to pick the fruit, and distributing it to food banks. And I bring the fruit that can’t be consumed fresh to Steph at Barmann, and she and Jesse make cider out of it.”
Steve set an initial goal of harvesting and distributing 5000 pounds of fruit this year. Two weeks in, and he and a small group of dedicated volunteers had already delivered 2500 pounds. “The main challenge is finding volunteers. I think I can find as much fruit as we can find volunteers to pick it.”
If you’re interested in volunteering for NW Fruit Rescue – or have a tree that could use a harvest – reach out to Steve directly at NWFruitRescue@gmail.com.
Fresh fruit is extremely valuable to food banks and hunger relief agencies, and there is always a shortage. Individual community members have the potential to make a huge difference, whether that’s harvesting from their own tree(s) and delivering fruit to food banks or having NW Fruit Rescue provide that service. For those that don’t have fruit trees, volunteering is another opportunity to contribute towards hunger relief for this community.
NW Fruit Rescue is just beginning to explore the possibilities for excess fruit here in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Whether it’s saving apples from an overburdened tree, bringing them to the food bank, or turning them into cider, there are many opportunities to reduce waste and feed folks in this community – get involved today!