Usually, people pay to pick their own stone fruit at Glenbernie Orchard but this week fourth-generation farmer Jo-Anne Fahey had to think outside the box.
After recent rain damaged fruit along five rows of trees on the 30-year-old nectarine orchard in Darkes Forest, she called on local food foragers for help.
Within an hour the branches were stripped bare by hundreds of people enjoying the spontaneous free family activity.
“I am somewhat overwhelmed,” Ms Fahey said.
“I didn’t expect this many people.
“We put a call out requesting 50 people come and pick some fruit that unfortunately has been damaged in the wet weather we had last week.
“It’s one variety of nectarines, four to five rows of trees, which for us is not a lot but for the general public, there are thousands of kilos of fruit,” she said.
Bigger than ‘Ben-Hur’
The reality for farmers is they can’t make any money on rain-damaged produce.
“We thought what a shame to leave it for the birds, how do we get it to the consumer?” Ms Fahey said.
With the knowledge that there were various programs to assist businesses to reduce food waste across the region, Ms Fahey called upon the founder of Hidden Harvest Berbel Franse for help.
Food Fairness Illawarra is a community coalition that works to make healthy and sustainable food available and affordable for all in the Illawarra, while Hidden Harvest, a service that started in 2015, cooks and serves community dinners.
“It’s bigger than Ben-Hur,” she said.
Free fruit for the needy or greedy?
Although the initial idea was to distribute the fruit to the needy, this did not appear to be the case as hundreds of families arrived at the farm.
“They could have come for the free fruit, but I think it’s about helping us get the fruit off the tree before the birds get it,” Ms Fahey said.
“They are thinking they are helping a farmer.
Among the happy fruit pickers were punters Isobelle and Tayla.
“We are going to make some jam [and] make some pie,” Isobelle said.
“This was so weird, not a stampede but sort of like a scene from Jumanji where everyone is looking forward to getting into the trees,” Tayla said.
“Even now you can see them climbing them, but it’s such a good family experience I’d say.”.
Relieved the fruit is now off the trees, Ms Fahey was delighted people enjoyed the experience.
“We’ve given them an opportunity to take something home and try cooking fruit that otherwise would have been wasted, and that’s great,” she said.
In terms of feeding the needy, Ms Franse said more time was needed to prepare.
“If we had known this was happening, we could have collaborated with other food relief organisations and got volunteers to come and pick, enabling food to make its way to their clientele,” she said.
“However, due to the short lead-in time this wasn’t possible but food security is one of the main pillars of Food Fairness Illawarra so that would have aligned very well with us.”
Unfortunately, stone-fruit farmers do not get much warning, so things happen quickly or not at all.
“The evidence of storm damage only happens just as the fruit is ripened and about to be picked, so there is no window to be able to arrange that type of exercise,” Ms Fahey said.
“It happens extremely quickly.
“And if we don’t pick it quickly it will be rotten on the tree, so it was very important to have immediate action on this,” she said.