This past Tuesday at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard, we welcomed Oona and Sam from the League of Urban Canners. The League of Urban Canners (LUrC), based in Somerville, work with local homeowners and institutions who don’t have the tools or time to harvest the fruit from their fruiting trees or bushes. LUrC arranges to harvest and preserve the fruit; in exchange, they give 10% of the preserves back to the owners and distribute the remaining 90% among those who helped harvest or preserve.
They brought their fruit tree map,
so market-goers could add or locate public fruit trees in their neighborhood. As the League is less than a year old, they’re still looking to add fruiting sites in Cambridge and Somerville.
The map is surprisingly full, though this only represents the fruit trees on public land. LUrC has cataloged over 175 fruit trees in Cambridge and Somerville and they expect the total to be many times larger.
In the past six weeks they have already harvested almost 500 pounds of apricots, mulberries, cherries and plums. (While the Greater Boston area does have its share of fruit trees, compare the League’s map to fruit maps in California or Colombia.)
Oona and Sam are practiced at the art of fruit-tree finding, and I had the chance to sit down with them to talk a little bit more about the League of Urban Canners and what they do.
FLP: How did the League get started?
LUrC: We started by canning tomatoes. We worked with a farm and canned some of their tomatoes. But that was expensive to buy all those tomatoes to can. After our tomato harvest, I biked by an apple tree, and I thought, “Let’s start harvesting these things.” The first year, we made about 150 pints of canned fruit with 5 people. We started late in the season, with sites of friends and others I knew. This year, we thought — let’s try to do this a little bit better. It exploded- we had no idea how much fruit was there. We’ve got 175 fruit tree sites on our map now.
FLP: Do you consider yourselves gleaners or foragers?
LUrC: We consider ourselves harvesters. We harvest quality fruit at its prime. Foraging is often done in small groups – – very privately, very carefully. For us, it’s important to be public. It’s an unwritten rule [for us]; don’t harvest unless you’ve talked with the neighbors. The League of Urban Canners exists because of the good will of the neighbors. They benefit, we benefit. Increasing this good will will only help us grow.
FLP: You rely on planted fruit trees. Do you know the stories behind some of these fruit trees? Who planted them, how long have they been there?
LUrC: Some. In Somerville, lots of the fruit trees were planted by 1st generation Italian immigrants, who had grown up on farms and always had fruit trees in their lives. Now, after these original tree-planters have died or gotten old or been pushed out by gentrification, we’ve talked with the current owners and gotten permission to harvest. In North Cambridge and Somerville, lots of streets are named for trees: Orchard Street, Cherry Street. It used to be a farm there.
FLP: Does harvesting fruit trees make you want more fruit trees, planted publically?
LUrC: I ran a public comment in support of fruit trees for the City of Somerville’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance. It’s very important that cities do not cut fruit trees down. In Watertown, someone sent me a picture of a whole apricot tree that got cut down by the city. Some people think fruit trees are a nuisance: they attract rats, make a mess. People have become detached from food production and are often uncomfortable with eating fruit they see picked from a tree; by jamming fruit, we bring fruit from fruit trees into a more recognizable form.
Thanks, Sam and Oona, for coming to the market!
For more information on the League of Urban Canners, visit their facebook page.
View the calendar of upcoming events at the Farmers’ Market. Every week, we’ve got lots happening: chef demos, movie screenings, and interactives.