The Limb Reapers

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Portland Fruit Tree Project Harvests Forgotten Fruit

By Noah Jenkins, Harvest Leader
Edited by Liz Crain

the limb reapersAt right: Executive Director Katy Kolker and board member Tshombe Brown. By Cassandra Swan

It’s a rainy Saturday in November. Why is the alarm going off? Oh, yes — I’m leading a harvest today. I wish I could stay in bed — my cat and my sweetie and down comforter sound way better than a wet bike ride — but I know it will be worth it. Sometimes it’s plums, beckoning with their sharp skin and succulent flesh; or apples, mother’s milk to this upstate New York native; or quinces, with their indescribably intoxicating scent.

Today, it’s persimmons, those globes of orange aglow against Portland’s drab sky, that entice me out of the warmth and comfort and into the damp fall air. About a dozen of us arrive at the site — a front yard in northeast Portland. My co-leader and I go over the basics — safety, picking technique, what’s “good” (approved to donate) versus “OK” (usable, but not good enough for donation) — and we begin combing through the elegant foliage of the two trees for our quarry. The fruit isn’t yet fully ripe. A week or two in a sunny window will finish the job, turning these brightly colored softballs almost to jelly.

It always amazes me how well and how quickly a group of perfect strangers gels into a team at harvests. Within minutes, the group has organized itself — ladder squad, sorting station, picking pole crew — and, as the day warms, chatter and laughter erupt like birdsong, adding another brightness to reflect the rapidly filling crates of fruit. We clear 100 pounds, 200… by the end of the two hours, we’re at more than 400 pounds, and talk has turned to what everyone plans to do with their fruit. Ideas and recipes are traded, and I begin to fantasize about persimmon bread.

We take the fruit earmarked for donation (a bit more than half of the total) to a food pantry not far from the harvest site. As we wheel the crates in, the Japanese women in the front row of waiting clientele murmur approvingly — they’ll know just what to do with these, and I know why I got out of bed.

REGISTER your tree, join a harvest, or take a tree care class with Portland Fruit Tree Project.

NEXT: The Giver

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