Volunteer harvesting program in Pemberton bears fruit

Initiative aims to reduce human-bear conflict and feed the community

A successful volunteer program in Pemberton is both reducing human-bear conflict and bearing fruit for locals seeking healthy produce.

The Pemberton Fruit Tree Program is now in its second year of organizing locals to pick and preserve fruit from trees that would otherwise rot and attract bears to backyards and public parks.

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Last year 1,750 pounds of fruit was harvested, according to Stewardship Pemberton Society’s executive director, Dawn Johnson.

The project is part of the organization’s “feasting for change” initiative, which includes a Seed Library and a community garden food bank program. The programs are meant to “link people to food and to educate on food sustainability.”

The Fruit Tree program was inspired by a similar earlier initiative, called the Pemberton Crabapple Project that started in 2014.

Johnson said crabapple trees were planted decades ago along Portage Road in Pemberton to honour local community members. Unfortunately the fruit on the trees was attracting a dangerous number of bears each summer. “They’re close to a daycare, school, health centre, skatepark and the community centre. These trees could not be in a worse spot to be having bears feeding out of them,” said Johnson.

Volunteers were gathered to help the society pick the fruit for the Pemberton Community Centre kitchen, where it was turned into crabapple jelly and sold at the Pemberton Farmers’ Market and the Pemberton Valley Supermarket.

The Fruit Tree Project expands that original campaign, matching residents with overflowing fruit trees to volunteers looking for fresh produce.

“In the same spirit of reducing human-bear conflict and unwanted fruit in the valley, we started the Pemberton Fruit Tree Project,” said Johnson. “The goals of the project are super simple; number one to reduce human-bear conflict, number two is to link people who have access fruit with people who want or need fruit.”

So far volunteers have harvested cherries, grapes, plums, pears and apples. The pickings are split evenly between the volunteers, homeowners and donations to local social organizations.

“It’s a great opportunity for people who want to preserve fruit for their families, we’re trying to remove some of the barriers for them to be able to do that,” said Johnson.

The program is also beneficial to homeowners, who may otherwise be left with a pile of rotting fruit that attracts bears, stinging insects and birds.

“It could be someone who is elderly, who isn’t able to physically harvest the fruit themselves, then they end up with a big mss of overripe fruit and a big attraction for bears,” said Johnson.

“Most people are just really happy to see the fruit being put to good use. It would otherwise rot, but now there’s families that get to eat it throughout the winter.”

Residents interested in becoming volunteer pickers can contact volunteer coordinator Belinda Geisler by filling out the volunteer picker form at stewardshippemberton.com emailing it to  pembyfruittree@gmail.com.

Homeowners with fruit trees that need harvesting can also contact the program to sign up.

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