- Darebin Fruit Squad is looking for people who have excess fruit on fruit trees
- The organisation lost many growers and volunteers during the pandemic
- There has been a 30 per cen increase in demand for emergency food relief in Darebin
- Volunteers will pick your excess fruit and add it to food hampers distributed in the community
- Many trees in the council areas are remnants from the waves of Italian and Greek migration inthe 1950s and 60s
Tamasin Tunny has more pears than she can handle, the two trees in her backyard heaving with fruit.
Tunny’s food dehydrator has been going around the clock. She’s been making chutneys, chai-spiced pears, pear tarte tatin.
Volunteer fruit picker Rachel Carlisle picks pears at Tamasin Tunny’s Bundoora garden.Credit:Chris Hopkins
“I’ve been running around the neighbourhood to see who wants some,” the Bundoora woman said.
But still, the bountiful trees keep on fruiting.
On Sunday, a group of volunteers from a local food rescue group – the Darebin Fruit Squad – solved Tunny’s pear pickle, harvesting kilos of fruit off her trees to share with the community in food relief hampers.
Tamasin signed her fruit trees up to the squad’s register in 2019, after her four-year-old fruit trees – pears, figs, apples, limes, mandarins, lemons – started producing more fruit than her family could eat.
The squad, founded in 2012, aims to salvage excess fruit from backyards, often from old trees planted by Greek and Italian migrants in the 1950s and 1960s.
Before the pandemic hit, about100 homes were on the fruit-picking roster, but that took a hit during the lockdown years.
This year, a new grant from Sustainability Victoria’s Circular Economy Communities Fund is helping the fruit squad to reboot, with funding to help sign up more household growers and fruit-pickers and to run free community workshops on fruit-tree care.
With pears and apples ripening now and citrus not far away, the fruit squad is hoping to sign up at least 60 more fruit-tree laden homes to bring the register back up to 100.
“We know the fruit is out there,” said Darebin Fruit Squad co-ordinator Holly Gallagher.
Tunny said she was delighted whenever the squad showed up to her home.
“The family next door that has five children – [they] are all sick of mandarins. They’ve had enough, we’ve had enough – but someone else is going to have some organic fruit.”
Fruit trees can yield harvests for decades. The squad wants to hear from any household, even if their trees have seen better days.
“We’ll come and do an audit first to see what kind of condition the tree is, how big it is and estimate roughly when it might fruit,” said volunteer picker Rachel Carlisle.
“We had an orange tree in Thornbury, which really was not that well looked after. It was very old, it was from the ’50s and it [still] used to pump out 130 kilos [of fruit] a year.”
Although olives trees are prolific through the suburbs, the fruit needs to be processed before eating. Gallagher said they were best picked for the Olives to Oil program, which happens in late May.
Christina DiPierdomenico, executive officer at Darebin Information, Volunteer and Resource Service (DIVRS), which takes in the fruit and includes it in food hampers, said cost of living pressure had driven a 30 per cent increase in demand for fortnightly food relief since November.
“It equates to about 500 to 550 households per month – about 1500 people,” she said. “We’ve had 100 news households just in the past month.”
“There is a fresh produce shortage at the moment, so having beautiful fresh fruit locally picked that is able to be shared with people immediately – how lovely is that?”
The Darebin Fruit Squad roam slightly beyond Darebin’s council borders into neighbouring municipalities Merri-bek, Yarra, Banyule and Whittlesea. Other parts of Melbourne are encouraged to start their own fruit squads with resources provided by DIVRS – just as the Burnley Fruit Squad did in 2017.
The squad is translating flyers into five languages, and hopes to reach all homes that have underutilised fruit trees.
“If you can see your neighbour has a bunch of unpicked lemons down the back, maybe knock on the door and say ‘hello’,” Gallagher said.
If you’re a resident of Darebin with a yard of fruit or want to volunteer, contact the Fruit Squad online here or call DIVRS on 9480 8200 between Monday and Thursday. You can also contact DIVRS for emergency relief with food, phone vouchers and other social support.
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