Ariel Gordon sits under a tree by the community centre in Wolseley. Her energetic young daughter, Anna, bounces about like the Energizer Bunny in an animé t-shirt. I try not to fangirl too much as she graciously signs my copy of her latest book of poetry, Stowaways.
Ariel is a dedicated Fruit Share volunteer. She says she has been to almost every kind of pick – grapes, chokecherries, cherries, pears, vegetables (“that was astounding and different. You know how cucumbers become all orange and bloated when they’re overripe? It’s so funny! There were these weird orange globes on the ground.”), and of course lots of apples (“and crab apples!” her daughter chimes in). On picks, Anna is in charge of collecting the fallen fruit. She loves doing that because “you get to run around a lot.”
Ariel says it’s good for people to spend time in trees, with their arms stretched over their heads. Reaching, you get sweaty and scratched up and hit on the head by apples, but it feels so good for you. She remembers childhood summers in a cabin in Minaki, picking blueberries and helping her mother make the most wonderful pies. One summer she and her sister were enterprising and picked enough blueberries to bring back to the city. They sold tiny, wizened but beautiful blueberries by the cup to their neighbours.
Her own city garden is shady, but she says a true Winnipegger is a scavenger – she loves garage sales, second-hand shops, and Fruit Share. She loves to think of all the food going back into circulation instead of being wasted.
People who have fruit trees are often elderly, or can’t be bothered to pick the fruit. At one pick, the woman had lived in the house for 20 years but had never done anything with her chokecherries – they were not part of her vocabulary about what was food and what wasn’t. Ariel says it was “sort of fun” to stand on her ladder and share a recipe for chokecherry syrup so the owner could finally make use of the fruit in her own back yard.
Fruit owners are often very excited to have the volunteers come to their yard and relieve them of the fruit. One of Ariel’s favourite picks was a cherry pick in Wildwood Park – you have to be Quick Draw McGraw to get into a non-apple pick! The woman kept bringing out food for the pickers; lemonade and sandwiches. It is a fond memory. Ariel was particularly amused by her fellow picker, a young man who insisted on climbing into the tree without using a ladder.
The best and the worst part of a pick is the processing. By the end, your fingers are all wizened and you say, “I hate pears!” The first time Ariel processed 40 lbs of fruit, she was so angry at the pears that she did not pull them out of the freezer until February. Most backyard fruit needs to be processed right away, although some of the eating apples might last a little while. Ariel always finds it amazing to watch what Getty gets up to; she always takes the processing three steps beyond.
Ariel is very glad that Fruit Share exists, and loves to tell people about it. She takes beautiful pictures and shares them on Facebook and on her blog, encouraging others to participate as well: “You can do this, too!”
Hadass Eviatar is a Winnipeg writer and Fruit Share enthusiast. She blogs at www.hadasseviatar.com.