Urban Fruit Harvests Catching On

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

You see Sacramento as a government town … the Capitol building and all those offices for the giant state bureaucracy.  But one man in the middle of that bureaucracy sees something else … :
…really have this vision of Sacramento becoming the world’s largest urban orchard. :05 
That’s Tom Sumpter … a state worker and a community organizer. One Saturday not long ago, he set out coffee and donuts by the tennis courts in an East Sacramento park. It’s in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. As volunteers strolled in, Sumpter handed out the coffee and donuts – and some maps with X’s marking trees at a dozen houses nearby. The volunteers carried long poles with mesh pockets at one end. They came to pick fruit : 
“Right now, the season is lemons, oranges, grapefruit - all the citrus. And we hope to be able to do quite a few bushels out of these yards. Then the Sacramento Food Bank has agreed to take our fruit, and they’re going to use it in their new mobile food giveaway program.” :17
Sacramento’s “urban fruit” harvest is patterned after projects like the Fallen Fruit Collective in Los Angeles.  It hosts walks where people pick fruit from branches hanging over LA’s streets and sidewalks. Tom Sumpter and some others took the idea to Sacramento, found homeowners who’d let volunteers harvest their fruit trees – and planned a harvest day … :
Sumpter: “Do we have our two teams? One team will take east of 32nd - one team will take west of 32nd. On the little half sheet are the different properties. (:12 plus ambi to run under traks as well)
The ten volunteers – men and women, ages 30 to 70-something - walk to their first site for a lesson in harvesting and pruning. As they swap stories, a common theme emerges: rotting fruit. Charlotte Donovan grew up in a family of North Dakota farmers, and she says oranges rotting on the ground leaves her feeling … :
“Deep down in the bones sad, y’know, at the same time that there people, right in town, who’d love to be able to eat that. And maybe be much healthier for it.” :14
The volunteers are surprised by the first tree on their route. It’s 20 feet tall with plump yellow grapefruit growing on one side and small red-gold Valencia oranges on the other.
Once the low-hanging fruit is picked, volunteer Karen Gowans angles a long pole to reach the upper branches.
The final grapefruit and then we will have picked this beautiful tree of most all of its fruit, grapefruit anyway. Ah, there we go! :12
In 40 minutes at the hybrid tree, Karen Gowans and the other volunteers harvested about a hundred pounds of fruit – and stashed it in red mesh sacks. It’s a pretty good haul. Now it’s on to the next stop
[AMBI of fruit pickers ”we need more bags” x-fade to next AMBI :03]
[AMBI in clear of tennis rackets hitting balls for a moment. :02]
Back at the tennis courts, Tom Sumpter waits for latecomers. Managing people is part of Sumpter’s day job, too. He’s a tax supervisor with the State Employment Development Department. With California’s jobless rate climbing, the EDD phone system tallies more than a million call attempts a day. Sumpter’s staff deals mainly with employers, but they often end up answering calls from people who’ve lost their jobs – and are desperate to get through on any EDD phone line. Sumpter says he told his staff not to take it personally when people scream or cry over the phone. On top of that are the two-days-a-month furloughs the Governor ordered for state workers:
There’s a lotta state workers that both members, the husband and the wife, are state workers, so they’re taking a pretty big hit :08
To combat the stress at work, Tom Sumpter’s been running a pot-luck soup kitchen for his staff before each furlough day. As for his weekend urban fruit harvest … :  
[AMBI fruit pickers: “…for mandarins,or we could go up the other way for oranges, grapefruits and lemons” keep AMBI under trak thru end.]
The volunteer fruit pickers plan to use a GPS system to map fruit trees across Sacramento and the suburbs. Longer lines of hungry people are queuing up at the Sacramento Food Bank – and Tom Sumpter says they need all the fresh fruit they can get. 

Julia Mitric is a reporter with KPCC, Pasadena. She is based in Sacramento.