Community Fruit Tree Harvests

Cooperate with friends and neighbors to harvest, preserve, distribute, and eat the fruit from the trees on your property.

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Anyone with a mature fruit tree is familiar with the annual quandaries: How do you get all that fruit out of the tree and what do you do with it? Most fruit trees produce a lot of fruit—300 peaches, 400 apples, and more lemons and plums than most people know what to do with.

Starting a neighborhood fruit tree harvest can save the day.

Starting a Neighborhood Harvest

Here are the steps you'll need to take to start a neighborhood fruit tree harvest:

  • Go door-to-door to find volunteers and do an inventory of neighborhood trees and berry bushes.
  • If tree owners want help harvesting, have them sign a harvest agreement (see the Fruit Harvest Agreement, below). Find out when their fruit is in season.
  • Schedule some fruit picking days. For example, you might plan to have volunteers meet at a designated spot every other Saturday (or even weekly), then begin the neighborhood rounds. Be sure tree owners know when you'll be visiting their house.
  • Get some extension fruit pickers (long poles with hooks and baskets at the end) or borrow a sturdy ladder or two. A tarp is also useful for catching fruit shaken off a tree.
  • Decide what to do with the fruit. You should give some to the neighbors who own the tree, if they want it. The rest can be delivered to other neighbors, donated to food banks and shelters, preserved, frozen, or used for a pie-baking party.
  • During the off-season, organize a neighborhood fruit tree pruning project. If everyone takes part, it'll be quick, easy, and fun.

If you are thinking of starting a neighborhood fruit tree harvest, there are many organizations you can use as a model. One excellent example is Village Harvest, based in suburban Silicon Valley, California. Village Harvest organizes volunteers to harvest fruit from backyards, distribute fruit to food banks and shelters, and educate the community about fruit growing and preservation. Village Harvest has a full calendar of harvesting events when fruit is in season. They invite anyone to show up at a designated meeting place, and then disperse to area homes for harvesting. They also encourage tree owners to pick their own fruit, providing a list of numerous drop-off locations for donation. The Village Harvest also has a volunteer "Jammin' Team," which meets monthly at a church kitchen to make preserves, later selling them to raise funds. Find out more at the Village Harvest website, which provides many helpful resources on fruit growing and preservation, as well as links to similar organizations.

Liability Concerns With Neighborhood Fruit Tree Harvests

Homeowners may be concerned about the risk they could be taking in letting someone harvest their fruit. What if a fruit harvester is injured or someone gets sick from eating the fruit? There isn't a simple answer to the question of who will be liable for injuries like these. In part, it depends on how the person is injured.

One way to significantly reduce the risk is to use extension fruit pickers rather than ladders. Homeowners should also take care to eliminate all hazards in the yard, such as holes, sharp objects, biting dogs, and so on. And, if there are any unavoidable risks, like a rickety fence or a sharply sloping hillside, the owner should let the harvesters know up front.

Homeowners who donate all of their fruit to nonprofits are probably protected from liability from injuries that befall fruit pickers on their property, and for illness stemming from eating the fruit. Every state has a Good Samaritan Food Donation law protecting people from liability for donating apparently wholesome food to a nonprofit, unless the injury involved gross negligence on the part of the donor. A nonprofit organization, for the purpose of this law, is a group that operates for religious, charitable, or educational purposes, and does not provide net earnings to, or operate in any other manner that inures to the benefit of, any officer, employee, or shareholder of the organization. The nonprofit doesn't have to be a registered corporation. It could be an unincorporated group, as long as the group is picking the fruit for charitable purposes, not to provide ­significant benefit to themselves. In other words, it could be your group.

Whether or not you believe that your group meets the above definition of a nonprofit organization, a liability waiver is always a good idea. The waiver won't always guarantee that the homeowner will avoid legal responsibility for injuries arising from the harvest, but it will likely provide the homeowner with some level of protection.

How to Prepare a Fruit Harvest Agreement

It's a good idea to use a written agreement to harvest fruit from some­one's property. The agreement should set some ground rules, specify dates and times for harvesting, and address liability concerns. An agreement that could be used for a fruit harvest is shown below.

Fruit Harvest Agreement

This agreement is between the Neighborhood Fruit Harvest Group ("Harvesters") and __________ ("Owner"). We enter into this agreement to allow Harvesters to pick fruit from Owner's fruit tree(s) and bushes.

1. On the following dates and times, Harvesters will pick the following fruit:

[Date]: Harvesters will pick_____________.
[Date]: Harvesters will pick_____________.
[Date]: Harvesters will pick_____________.

2. Check one of the following:

     __ It is ok for Harvesters to enter the yard when Owner is not home. If owner is not home, Harvesters should [describe procedures, such as "close the gate behind them."]

     __ Harvesters should enter the yard only when Owner is at home.

3. Harvesters will follow these rules when in Owner's yard: [describe rules, such as "Harvesters will not smoke;" "Harvesters will not make unnecessary noise while in the yard;" "Harvesters will take care to not damage flower beds or break any branches of the fruit trees."]

4. Harvesters will pick all fruit that appears ready to be picked and leave less mature fruit on the tree.

5. Harvesters will take care to avoid damaging the tree or breaking branches.

6. Harvesters will give [amount] of fruit to Owner.

7. Harvesters may do the following with the remainder of the fruit. (Check all that apply.)

     __ Give fruit to other neighbors

     __ Donate fruit to a food bank or other charity

     __ Consume the fruit

     __ Preserve or prepare the fruit, to eat or share

8. Harvesters will take reasonable steps to ensure that the fruit is not wasted.

9. Harvesters will use all proper care and safety precautions when climbing trees and ladders. ( Or: Harvesters will not climb the trees or use ladders. Harvesters will use extension fruit pickers, which they will provide.)

10. Owner does not ask for any compensation.

11. Harvesters, as consideration for the right to harvest fruit from Owner's tree(s), agree not to make a claim against or sue Owner for injury, loss, or damage that occurs during fruit harvest and/or consumption of Owner's fruit, including injury, loss, or damage arising from the negligence of Owner. Harvesters agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Owner from all claims, liability, or demands that Harvesters or any third party may have or in the future make against Owner for injury, loss, or damage arising from harvesting and/or consuming fruit from Owner's trees, including from food-borne illness.

Name:_____________________ on behalf of ________________


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