For five months out of the year, a small army of volunteers spreads across New Orleans picking fruit from neglected trees and transporting it to food banks
From November to March, New Orleans trees grow heavy with satsumas, grapefruit, tangerines, Calamondin oranges, Meyer lemons, Louisiana sweets. But as citrus season goes on, many urban fruit tree owners don't have the time or energy to continue harvesting, and the fruit goes to waste. Meanwhile, thousands of households within the same city struggle with hunger.
Enter the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project. Modeled after the existing Portland Fruit Tree Project, the program promotes equitable access to healthy, locally-grown food by enlisting volunteers to harvest fruit from registered urban fruit tree properties and donating the harvests to food pantries. There are currently about 30 trees registered and around 60 volunteers on hand to do four harvests a week, according to Megan Nuismer, who began the program last January after moving to New Orleans to work on the Hollygrove community farm for an AmeriCorps Vista position.
"There was a house in the [French] Quarter that had a grapefruit tree that was two stories tall and forty years old and gave off hundreds and hundreds of grapefruits every year," Nuismer said. Volunteers were able to harvest 500 pounds of grapefruit from one such tree without even getting on a ladder. Although occasional orchard cleanings have generated 1,400 pounds of fruit at a time, Nuismer and company focus on more immediately accessible urban harvests. "People buy houses that come with trees and don't know what to do with them," Nuismer said. "A lot of fruit tree owners who find out [about us] get excited because they're able to donate, but also just to reduce the weight."