Every year, homeowners with fruit trees, whether they be orange, lemon or apple, face a dilemma: what to do with all of the excess produce? If they are industrious and have some free time, they may avail themselves of nature’s bounty by cooking up some homemade jam, pies or cobbler. But for the kitchen-challenged, fall may bring nothing more than a front yard littered with rotting citrus remains.
But, there’s another side to this story. Every harvest, under the cover of darkness, shadowy figures stalk the urban landscape, seeking the sweet nectar which sustains them. They call themselves by various names: Strawberry Stealer, Cherry Picker, Pineapple Pirate, but they all share one thing in common: an insatiable need for homegrown fruit.
Kaytea Petro, a local San Francisco artist, maker, entrepreneur, and recent MBA graduate has a vision: bring peace and harmony to this apocalyptic scenario by dragging local fruit monsters out of the shadows, and providing them with the thing they crave: cheap, local fruit grown right in their neighborhood. Owners of the aforementioned bounty now have a way to feed these endless hordes of ravenous fruit-feeders, while making use of their previously-untapped seed-delivery devices.
When Kaytea first told me about her concept for Neighborhood Fruit, connecting local fruit tree owners with those looking for pickable fruit in their neighborhoods, I though she was, pardon the pun, “nuts.” It turns out that I was completely unschooled in the ways of the “Urban Forager.” Apparently, there are some very dedicated groups of people all over the country, who scope out available local fruit trees, and share that information with their fellow foragers. According to the trend-watching organization The Intelligence Group, sharing back yard harvests is a new hip trend, along with D&D drinking games, cop glasses and fixed gear bicycles. There has also been a surge in local food growing due to the state of the economy. After learning all of this, I realized that Kaytea was on to something really neat.
Kaytea, who handles marketing and business development, is a very creative and successful local artist and developed the idea as part of her Integrative Capstone class at the Presidio School of Management. She planted her first Victory Garden while in college at UC Santa Cruz. Kaytea is teamed up with fellow Presidio graduate Oriana Sarac, who handles the technology and operations for the company.
According to Kaytea, “The bulk of fruit grown in back yards in our cities goes to waste, while the fruit we consume is grown in water-intensive orchards far from our homes. We envision a different future, where the bulk of backyard fruit is utilized and shared between neighbors. We envision a future where the food we eat is truly fresh, seasonal and local.”
NeighborhoodFruit.com, which is tentatively scheduled to launch in May, works like this: Individuals who own fruit trees can register on the website, and agree to provide free produce in a couple of different ways. They can provide small amounts of fruit to casual “snackers” by downloading a monthly fruit label and placing it on available fruit trees or small boxes of fruit. If a tree owner wants to give away larger quantities of fruit, and wants to garner a free membership from fruit given away, they participate in transactions. Likewise, if a fruit seeker needs a larger quantity of a particular fruit, arranging a transaction is the easiest way to get the fruit they want, at the time they need.
The tree owner registers their trees and notes what types of fruit they have and when it will be in season. When the fruit comes into season, they chose whether they would prefer to pick the fruit themselves, or allow people to pick the fruit. Fruit prepared by tree owners is put into paper bags – known as “units” – labeled with the monthly Neighborhood Fruit label and the Fruit Seekers’ name and left for them at the appointed time in the appointed place accessible from the street. These “U Pick” transactions are set for a particular time. The fruit seeker arrives and picks the amount of fruit they desire from the tree owner’s tree.
Neighborhood Fruit charges a small transaction fee to the fruit seekers who engage in these transactions, which is how they pay for the whole thing. By successfully completing transactions, Tree Owners can earn a free membership to Neighborhood Fruit, meaning that all the fruit they consume is free.
The company uses a whimsical cartoon graphic style, to indicate the fun of enjoying locally-harvested fruit. Each month a contest is held, where participants can submit their designs for fruit labels. Reminiscent of vintage fruit-crate labels, the designs usually feature some kind of cartoonish rogue availing himself of the local bounty (April’s winner was the “Pineapple Pirate”). The labels serve several purposes: they provide branding for the site, they help seekers identify available fruit, and they help seekers tell if the fruit is fresh by changing each month.
Neighborhood Fruit also plans to develop a service which can be used on mobile phones. This will greatly increase the ability of casual fruit seekers to quickly find fruit on the go. The company is also collaborating with the Urban Forest Mapping Project to capture information about urban forests and inner-city carbon sequestration.
Like a lot of local initiatives, the service is sure to have its detractors. Neighborhood Fruit friend (and user) Iso Rabin has recently launched his new Community Supported Forage Box through Forage San Francisco. The San Francisco Health Inspector isn’t so pleased. I think he’s just being a Grape Grinch.
Steve Puma is a technologist, sustainability consultant and strategist. He currently writes for bothTriplePundit and his personal blog,ThePumaBlog.com, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve recently received his MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, and holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Rutgers University.
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