Megan Nuismer runs The New Orleans Fruit Tree Project (www.nolafruit.org), a program that harvests fruit that otherwise would go to waste from private residential properties and donates it to local organizations that feed the hungry. Gambit spoke with Nuismer about the harvesting process and its new project with New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity.
How did the Fruit Tree Project come about?
Nuismer: The project started in 2011, and I had just moved back from Portland (Oregon), where I was working after graduating from Tulane (University). I had taken a pretty big interest in food security and food accessibility in my last year of grad school, so I really wanted to find a way to increase local produce and accessibility. I took an Americorps position with Hollygrove Market and Farm, and I started the Fruit Tree Project there. They would get calls from people who said, "I have all this citrus, can you take it?" I was like, "I could go get it." So on days when the van wasn't being used, I would go pick up the fruit.
The project just kind of spread by word of mouth, and the first season we did 3,000 pounds of fruit, the next season 10,000; it just kind of kept growing. This will be out fifth harvesting season.
Which trees are your biggest producers?
N: We probably harvest more lemons than anything, but it's hard to say because it's so weather-dependent. Sometimes satsumas will do great because they come in a little bit earlier, or there's a wet winter and grapefruits do well. We had a huge lemon year last year, but we also had low fruit levels overall because the winter was so harsh. Top five are probably lemons, satsumas, kumquats, grapefruit and Louisiana sweet oranges.
The eye-opening thing has been how homeowners have realized what an amazing resource they have right in their own backyard. So right there it kind of starts a conversation about the fact that people have something to give and share with others. Fruit Tree Project is that link between donors and people who need the fruit.
Fresh produce is such a gem in the food-rescue world. People are used to seeing the canned goods and things like that, but when you have a load of satsumas, a lot of people get excited. Especially elderly people get excited because they say, "I remember eating these as a child." I think the growth of the local food movement is really helping people be reintroduced to all the produce they have growing right in their own backyards.
What's next on the horizon for Fruit Tree Project?
N: We've always stuck with the harvesting, but this year we're starting a program called "Planting for the Future," where we'll be planting 100 fruit trees on Habitat for Humanity lots across the city. We're just getting ready to launch it, but we're hoping by December to have 100 new fruit trees in the ground.