Backyard fruit tree gleaning fulfills many needs, including reducing bear-human conflicts
UpRoot Colorado’s mission is about reducing waste and providing food to those who need it.
“UpRoot Colorado measurably reduces surplus agriculture in Colorado, supports the economic stability of farmers and increases the nutritional security of our state’s residents,” according to the organization’s website.
It doesn’t say anything about bears.
But UpRoot’s work with backyard fruit trees could help reduce human-bear interactions, such as a recent encounter in Aspen. UpRoot co-founder Ciara Low sees that as a side benefit of UpRoot’s work.
“[Reducing bear-human interactions] is definitely not a new spin on this. On a personal level it’s not what attracted me to this work or got me interested, but it’s something that I think is a definite positive to the work we do. … Reducing bear interactions with people and saving bear populations is super important and definitely feels like an outcome of the work we do,” Low said.
The organization’s purpose is to reduce food loss from farms by picking surplus, a process known as gleaning.
But the nature of farms in the Roaring Fork Valley has changed that focus.
“We are working with farms around here, but a lot of the farms we work with are small and really efficient. They don’t have a lot of excess. They get most of their food if not all of it to market. We’ve realized more and more just how many fruit trees there are in this area, and so we have in some senses turned our focus. … Most of our gleaning out here is backyard fruit tree gleaning,” Low said.
UpRoot will glean any backyard fruit tree.
“We do edible fruit trees. … We’ll come out and inspect it. Every now and then you’ll have a tree where the fruit really isn’t tasty, and then we might advise homeowners on how to prune it or take care of it in such a way that might improve that,” Low said.
Interested homeowners are invited to register their trees with UpRoot.
“People should register, and then we can learn more about their tree and advise them. With the registry there’s no obligation, that just means they’re in our system. When their tree starts to get ripe we’ll give them a call or shoot them an email. We’ll reach out and see if they’re interested in having their tree gleaned that year. If they invite us out we’ll always leave some for them,” Low said.
Homeowners can join in if they want to.
“They’re certainly welcome to [join in]. We’re starting an initiative to advertise gleaning parties. People who have a tree can invite their friends out, they can provide the drinks and snacks, we’ll provide our equipment. We can all glean together. … We also do a lot of properties where the homeowner isn’t home,” Low said.
Gleaning sessions are typically kept to two hours.
“Balancing the needs of a fruit tree owner or a farm with the stamina of volunteers (obviously, we hope to create memorable experiences that keep volunteers coming back for more), we schedule two-hour gleans,” Geneviève Joëlle Villmamizar, Roaring Fork gleaning coordinator, said in an email.
Things can get busy when fruit gets ripe, but geographic diversity can help keep that in check.
“We have two gleaning coordinators … so we can tag-team a little that way when things do come ripe at the same time,” Low said. “We will often have multiple gleans in one week. Cherries are out right now, and we’re gleaning multiple times per week to get those cherries. … Our fruit trees in our registry right now are all spread out between Aspen and Rifle, and so we get that lag in fruit being ripe in those areas. We were gleaning cherries in Rifle two weeks ago, and now we’re gleaning cherries in Carbondale because the climates are different and so they ripen at different times.”
The gleaning parties have to be limited in size during the coronavirus pandemic.
“With COVID-19, we’re limiting group sizes to allow for social distancing,” Villmamizar said.
It’s doubtful bears honor social distancing guidelines, and gleaners will be working when bears are hungry.
“We schedule gleans based upon when a crop or fruit tree is ripe, paired with the window of access a host can accommodate gleaning, which kind of lines up with primo bear feasting time,” Villmamizar said.
UpRoot gleans fruit that is ready to eat, which does not include crabapples. Considering that bears eat crabapples, UpRoot’s backyard work will not eliminate the possibility of interactions.
“Bears certainly do love crabapples,” Villmamizar said.
However, “LIFT-UP, our region’s food pantry for those in need, provides essential staples. The average hungry family won’t necessarily have the luxury of investing a day to can apple butter but certainly values … apples to pack in a child’s lunch.
“… Plucking the crabapples from the valley’s thousands of crabapple trees … would force an altogether different mission, goal and value system,” Villmamizar said.