Learning About Abundance

The below article is featured on Ivy and Neat’s website today (Wednesday 22nd August) 2012) www.ivyandneat.com

Did you know that the UK imports 90% of its fruit and 70% of its vegetables, and yet each year we have fruit going to waste in people’s gardens and in the countryside? We’d heard that there were groups nationwide trying to do something about this, with a variety of aims including reducing food miles and getting the local community involved in a project. We asked Diane Gill, of WEN Abundance, based in West Ealing, if she could explain more.

What is Abundance?
Abundance is a project to harvest the seasonal glut of local fruit like apples, pear and plums. Each year hundreds of fruit trees go unpicked either because people don’t notice them, may not be physically able to harvest them or there are just too many fruits at one time. Abundance is a team of volunteers who have been helping harvest city fruit and redistributing the surplus to the community on a non-profit basis.

How did you become involved?
We had heard of Sheffield Abundance (they started the Abundance ‘movement’) and one of our members came to the committee with the idea.  We picked our first apple tree in West Ealing in 2007 and it has grown from there.

How does it operate at the local group level?
We have a list of volunteers that is constantly updated and amended with their availability and contact details. Dependant upon what we are doing we will either contact volunteers individually, or send out a group email if it is a general pick i.e. blackberry picking. We have a small team that usually scout the location first then decide what to do from there. This is particularly important when owners of trees contact us as we need to establish height, quality of fruit, best time to pick, how many volunteers are required.

How frequently do you go out picking or ‘foraging’?
We don’t ‘forage’ in the way that some groups do as we have established places to pick from now and our own orchard as well as allotment owners providing us with ‘spare’ produce. If someone tells us about a new location we will go and check and establish likely time of harvest. We will then arrange picking dates and contact volunteers if required.

What do you do with the produce?
We make a lot of jam, chutney, cordial and juice. We sell this via local carnivals, fairs etc and also a couple of independent retailers sell our cordial and juice on our behalf. We also operate a free ‘box’ scheme for some produce such as apples on volunteer walls in roads where there is a high footfall. The general public can then take what they want. We also donate to a local church soup kitchen.

 Do you have any particular favourite fruits, vegetables or recipes?
We tend to like the fruits we don’t get a lot of! Rhubarb is a good example. Last year we had none as the crop was so bad and this year we had a small amount and made rhubarb, orange and vanilla jam – lovely! We are constantly reviewing recipes based on costs of additional ingredients as these have gone up quite dramatically over the past couple of years and we need to be conscious of our selling prices. We also like to add new recipes to see what works. There are staple good sellers such as our WEN chilli chutney, as well as our blackberry and blackberry & apple jams.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Volunteers are the mainstay of any Abundance group and no group ever has enough of them! People can devote as little or as much time as they wish so they shouldn’t be put off by volunteering and feel they have to do everything. We are also short of people with experience making the produce as we control this aspect so tightly for obvious reasons. We are happy to train those interested.

You can find out more about some of the Abundance groups here:
www.abundancenetwork.org.uk

In addition to the groups listed above, here are links to other groups and organisations doing similar things:
http://www.fruitshare.net/
http://www.growsheffield.com/index.html
http://www.organiclea.org.uk/
http://www.facebook.com/urbanforagerpeckhampickler
http://www.selfsufficientish.com/main/
http://thelondonorchardproject.org/
http://urbanharvest.wikispaces.com/