The Fruitful Forest: Developing a Fruit Tree Care Program for Toronto (Finalist)
Tucked away in backyards and along alleyways, Toronto’s urban forest is teeming with fruit trees. Approximately 1.5 million pounds of fruit are produced from our urban canopy every year, and yet most of this fruit goes unpicked. Not Far From The Tree sprang to life in 2008 as a bright and hopeful solution to this surplus of local fruit. Volunteers are mobilized to harvest the fruit and then the bounty is shared: 1/3 to the homeowner; 1/3 to the volunteers, and 1/3 to a neighbourhood food bank or shelter. It’s a win-win-win solution.
As the lead partner in this venture, Not Far From The Tree will house the fruit tree care social enterprise upon its implementation. Operating since 2008, Not Far From The Tree is a charitable project whose mission is to pick and share the abundance of fruit growing in Toronto. In this short time, Not Far From The Tree has proven itself to be a game-changing approach to environmental engagement, particularly in an urban setting.
Not Far From The Tree has a database of over 750 homeowners with fruit trees on their properties, over 900 volunteers looking for adventures with fruit trees in the city, and a solid management team supported by Tides Canada Initiatives Society. We also have a strong Steering Committee who are very keen to see the development of a fruit tree care program to help support the overall work of Not Far From The Tree.
Tides Canada Initiatives Society, the parent charity of Not Far From The Tree, is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to environmental sustainability and social change. It provides a shared administrative platform (comprehensive financial, human resources, risk and grant management) for 40+ projects across the country.
Three members of the Ontario Institute of Agrologists are already involved in the initial research phase of this program. They have received their expertise from international training programs and are now faced with the dilemma of finding meaningful work in their fields in Canada.
MaRS is where science, technology and social entrepreneurs get the help they need. Where all kinds of people meet to spark new ideas. And where a global reputation for innovation is being earned, one success story at a time. The SiG (Social Innovation Generation) practice of MaRS offers programs and services for social innovators and entrepreneurs. Clients like Not Far From the Tree access to a range of expertise and resources (all on a pro bono basis) that help them turn their ideas into positive outcomes for society, enhancing the quality of life for people in Ontario and across Canada. SiG@MaRS is contributing market intelligence to quantify the demand for fruit tree care services in Toronto including the finer details of a business plan.
The George Cedric Metcalf Foundation has contributed start-up funding for the initial research phase of this program. This has allowed us to hire the team of agrologists and to cover some overhead costs to develop the idea.
UPDATE: The feedback we have received through ClimateSpark has been so helpful in refining this project idea. As we move further into developing a fruit tree care program, each piece of advice and feedback lays out the path. In addition, we have had several opportunities outside of ClimateSpark since we first submitted this proposal in Round 1. Here's an update:
- During a leadership training session at the Hollyhock Centre in mid-October, Not Far From The Tree's Director had two one-on-one sessions to workshop the fruit tree care program with nonprofit social enterprise expert Andy Robinson, author of Selling Social Change (Without Selling Out):
Earned Income Strategies for Nonprofits. He counselled on several aspects of the business development for the fruit tree care program. One very salient piece of advice that he offered is that, in addition to the existing list that we have of homeowners with fruit trees on their property, we should also look to large landowners in the city to bring the program to an economy of scale. He suggested bundling these services for wholesale to landowners such as the Toronto District School Board or the Toronto Transit Commission. In these cases, this would likely begin with planting new trees to meet landowner sustainability targets.
- Thanks to feedback about GHG emissions, we've implemented more exact measures to quantify all aspects of GHG emissions reductions with our work. Whereas beforehand we only had exact numbers for the emissions offset by local fruit vs. conventional sources, we now have numbers for the GHG emissions reductions value of the trees themselves as well as the emissions reduced by using bikes for the distance travelled rather than cars. All of this data pertains to our fruit picking program - which is different from though related to the fruit tree care program being proposed here - though the data paints a picture of what the quantifiable effects of the fruit tree care program could also be.
- Not Far From The Tree's inaugural Steering Committee has convened and a working group has been established to further develop the fruit tree care program. There is much enthusiasm and, specifically, business expertise in order to work towards the creation of a full business plan through the organization.
- Related opportunities to support the development of this project have been sought out. Two grant applications seeking support for social enterprise development within Not Far From The Tree are currently pending, one of which is exclusively for the apprenticeship phase of the fruit tree care program. A third opportunity is now being sought that would provide matching funds for business plan development.
11% of trees in Toronto are fruit-bearing trees, though few homeowners have the capacity to provide the special care that these trees need. Not Far From The Tree already houses a database of over 900 fruit trees from 750 Torontonians, and so many people have already approached us seeking help with pruning, organic pest control, what kind of fruit tree to plant in their yard, and general care for their fruit trees. To better steward this portion of our urban canopy, we see great potential to develop a meaningful social enterprise that can both respond to this demand and generate core revenue to support our other programs. We are in the midst of an initial research phase with three expert agrologists and are looking to launch a fruit tree care apprenticeship program for 2012.
The wet spring and dry summer of 2011 have really driven home how urban fruit trees are particularly susceptible to fluctuations and disease. This program's immediate aim is to provide enough care to prevent trees from being cut down. The long-term aim is to steward the existing fruit trees so that they thrive and are productive as well as to enable homeowners to plant more fruit trees thereby increasing the overall urban canopy.
Although some fruit tree care services are offered by arborists, home gardening companies, and landscapers, the specific care required for each type of fruit tree is often lost among other tree care services. There is a gap in services for professional agrologist knowledge to be applied to the fruit trees that make up our "urban orchard" - a significant portion of our urban forest. Fruit-bearing trees account for 11% of the urban canopy, the majority of which are on residential property. Not Far From The Tree has achieved a strong community identity in the neighbourhoods where we operate, and so a natural fit is to meet the need for fruit tree care with excellence while sustaining our core mission.
So here’s the plan: We’re already in the midst of an initial research phase with the help of three fruit tree experts through the Ontario Insitute of Agrologists and are compiling an advisory council to oversee the project in the long-term. These three in particular are internationally-trained individuals who are finding it difficult to apply their expertise in the Canadian context. They are now in the field, checking out some of the 800 trees that we’re already working with in order to assess the knowledge, skills, equipment, and strategy needed to deliver proper urban fruit tree care. (By providing employment opportunities, we’re already engaged in social purpose enterprise even in the research phase.)
In 2012, this team of agrologists will start training a group of apprentices who will ultimately deliver the fruit tree care services. They will be overseen by a special project steering committee comprising orchardists, agrologists, and arborists. We envision that many of these apprentices will come from our current pool of 900+ fruit picking volunteers, except that now they will be finding employment through what was once a volunteer opportunity.
The final outcome will be a social enterprise housed within Not Far From The Tree to deliver fruit tree care services. The exact model has yet to be decided although we are strongly considering a worker co-op comprised of graduates from the apprenticeship program. Homeowners would connect with Not Far From The Tree for the care of their fruit trees and pay a fee for the service offered. Depending on the needs of the homeowner, this may range from attending a workshop on small steps that the homeowner can do to better care for the trees themselves to hiring a worker to provide year-round care for their tree. Once the worker is paid fairly and the overhead costs for equipment and administration are covered, Not Far From The Tree earns a portion of the revenue to provide core support for their high-impact programs.
The impact of this work on climate change is huge. First of all, we are directly cutting emissions by making use of an extremely local source of fresh fruit. You can’t get much more local than the fruit trees in your own backyard! It’s the 1-mile diet, delivered through a community-driven effort.
For the purpose of this proposal, we'll use the numbers from our 2010 fruit picking season to get a sense of similar GHG emissions reductions that could be achieved through a fruit tree care program.
Encouraging urban agriculture is an incredibly powerful way to reduce carbon emissions and change behaviour of city-dwellers. With 80% of Canadians living in cities, it's important to produce our food close to where the eaters are. This dorectly reduces carbon emissions associated with food miles and, by connecting city-dwellers with hands-on opportunities to understand where food comes from, we are providing a crucial educational link in order for us all to make changes elsewhere in our lives.
- In 2010, we picked 19,695 lbs of fruit from trees in Toronto. This is an existing source of fruit that otherwise wouldn't have been harvested. We divided these fruits into categories (e.g., apples, pears, berries) and compared the GHG emissions that would have been created had this same weight of fruit been imported from the conventional sources. The conventional sources (e.g., Chile, Washington, New Zealand) and transportation modes (e.g., boat, plane, truck) were determined through research at the Ontario Food Terminal according to each category. Ultimately, we determined that this same harvest from conventional sources would have resulted in 109 tonnes of GHG emissions.
The overall health and vigour of the urban forest, of which fruit trees make up a significant 11%, will increase with the addition of these targeted services. We know that our picking program has stopped many a homeowner from cutting down their trees. We anticipate that the fruit tree care program will also grow to have a tree-planting component to encourage more homeowners to plan fruit trees on their properties and thereby increase the urban canopy as a whole.
- In addition to the fruit-bearing properties of these trees, we cannot forget that they also serve all of the other wonderful functions that all trees do. Live Green Toronto has calculated that "the average tree in Toronto sequesters approximately 5 kg [11 lbs] of carbon/year for an average tree size of 16.3cm in diameter." In 2010 there were 228 trees that we harvested fruit from (i.e., the first level of fruit tree care), thereby totalling yet another tonne.
We transport all of our fruit and equipment using a fancy fleet of cargo bikes, keeping our own carbon footprint extremely low. The bikes we have acquired can be outfitted with electric-assist systems in anticipation of our future expansion into more spread-out neighbourhoods and possibly requiring heavier equipment. We are investigating ways to launch the fruit tree care program in keeping with our mandate of sustainable transportation and welcome ideas about this aspect of the project in particular.
- In addition, we transport all of our equipment by bicycle (and are exploring a similar no- or low-emission technique for the fruit tree care program) and so we can also add this calculation to fill out the bigger picture of our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While we have yet to complete this calculation, we do know that in 2010 we travelled a total distance of 1120 kms. Live Green Toronto reports that bicycles give off 0 eCO2. If we had used fossil fuels to travel this same distance, our footprint would have been much larger.
Not Far From The Tree's senior management team is comprised of Laura Reinsborough, Founder & Director, and Laurel Atkinson, Program Manager. Laura's hard work and dedication in starting Not Far From The Tree has earned her numerous accolades and awards:
- Received a Women of the Earth Award from the Yves Rocher Foundation (2011)
- Awarded a Vital People grant through the Toronto Community Foundation (2011)
- Named an Agent of Change through the Centre for Social Innovation (2011)
- Featured as an inaugural GreenHero on GreenHeroes TV (2010)
- Portrayed in a chapter in former Toronto Mayor David Miller’s book, Witness to a City, for contributing to the strength of Toronto (2010)
- Named a “local hero” by The Village Post and a “local food visionary” by the Toronto Star (2010)
- Presented as “We’ve got our eye on…” in Chatelaine Magazine (2009)
On behalf of Tides Canada Initiatives Society, Todd Jaques works with Not Far From The Tree as Project Specialist. As past Director of Operations & Agriculture Partnerships at the Ontario Association of Food Banks, Todd brings a wealth of experience to this position.
Rounding out the team is Not Far From The Tree's Steering Committee: Derek Smith, Joshna Maharaj, Jodi Lastman, Ravenna Nuaimy-Barker, Chris Chen, Ben Marans, and Jordy Gold.
The initial research phase is already underway, linking our current team with agrologists who are assessing the needs of fruit trees in the urban context. This initial assessment will enable us to prepare a business plan to set out a clear strategy to achieve our goal of creating a fruit tree care program.
Phase two will involve training of apprentices in urban fruit tree care under the supervision of the expert agrologists, to be rolled out starting in the spring of 2012, from within a portion of Not Far From The Tree’s total operating area (which is currently at 1/3 of Toronto’s total area). At the same time, we will be developing promotional material to attract interest from landownerrs. For the apprenticeship phase, landowners will be offered a discounted price for services delivered to care for their existing fruit trees or the planting of and care for new trees. The crew of apprentices will be fully able to deliver fruit tree care services starting in 2013 when landowners will be offered the services at full price.
Our five-year goal is to offer a full range of fruit tree care services in the full geographic area where Not Far From The Tree will be operating at that time (approximately one half to two thirds of Toronto’s area).