A local grassroots organization is fighting food insecurity with fresh food. The Portland Fruit Tree Project, a community-based urban food recovery project, works with homeowners, orchards and partner organizations to glean and distribute unused fruit.
Food insecurity is up in Oregon. Nearly 25% of households in the state experienced food insecurity in 2020, up from 10% in 2019. Households of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are especially hard hit, according to a study by Oregon State University.
“There is no reason people should go without good food, especially when it is growing and dropping on the sidewalk,” said Kris Balliet, board of directors chair for the Portland Fruit Tree Project. She is a Concordia resident and the organization’s business office is located in nearby Leaven Community.
“We get there before fruit starts getting bad, gather it and put it into a system that gets it to people experiencing food insecurity.”
To distribute the food, the project works with community organizations, such as Black Mental Health Oregon, Hollywood Senior Center, Friends of Trees, Mudbone Grown’s CSA program, Davis Elementary School and other schools in diverse and low-income neighborhoods.
Kris said the organization, founded in 2006, struggled with finances prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, it’s turned a corner fueled by strong community support, ongoing demand for services and the hiring last year of director Heather Keisler Fornes.
“The pandemic illuminated how many people need fresh food, and how great the need is. Our expansion has been remarkable over the course of the last year,” Kris said. “We wanted to make sure that fruit was not going to waste, and kids were not going without fruit, even during a lockdown.”
Lately, increased donations are funding new programs.
The organization recently established a new BIPOC work training program in partnership with The Blueprint Foundation, a Black-led green workforce development nonprofit. The program aims to raise wage opportunities for youth and established workers in landscaping or other lower-wage work.
A new service helps property owners care for home orchards. Coaching helps do-it-yourself owners to better care for their trees. A full-service care programs offers comprehensive maintenance for fruiting trees, vines and shrubs.
“We invite everyone in the Portland metro area, and particularly the inner northeast, to participate,” Kris said.
Homeowners can participate by harvesting their own fruit or requesting volunteer help.
The project also welcomes cash donations, in-kind gifts and volunteers to harvest trees or offer skills like legal, grant writing or accounting services. For more information, visit PortlandFruit.org.
Michael French is grateful to live on 28th Avenue in Concordia, a place where neighbors talk to each other and he can get most places on foot, by bike or transit. Contact him at MFrench96@gmail.com.