Tree Top, the food processing co-op based in Selah, took unused fruit puree and created a squeezable snack food and gave 150,000 to a local food bank network.
There’s the old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Tree Top, the food processing co-op based in Selah, Yakima County, has its own version: When life gives you peaches, make peach-flavored squeeze tubes that help feed the poor.
Tree Top, the nearly 60-year-old growers’ co-op, had a client that wanted peach puree for baby food. But after the peaches were processed, the puree turned out to be too thin for baby food.
“It would not stay on the spoon,” said Tree Top spokeswoman Sharon Miracle.
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That’s when Tree Top’s research and development team began thinking about what it could produce with all that thin peach puree, especially with ingredients it had on hand at the time.
It hit upon combining the peach puree with apple sauce and a bit of lemon juice — and putting the result in squeeze tubes.
“We thought it would appeal to children and be easy for parents to hand out,” Miracle said.
It was a no-brainer to donate the Fruit Squeezes, as Tree Top calls them, to local food banks, since the co-op already contributes to the larger food banks in Washington and Oregon.
“We just said: ‘We have this. Do you want it?’” Miracle said. “There was a very enthusiastic reception.”
Tree Top produced about 150,000 Fruit Squeezes, handing them off last month to the 2nd Harvest hunger relief network. 2nd Harvest distributes some 2 million pounds of food each month to food banks, soup kitchens, schools and meal centers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
2nd Harvest passed along the squeeze tubes to those organizations, and also handed them out to individual families at its mobile markets — where a company or church sponsors 2nd Harvest to set up a farmers market of sorts so those in need can get food for free.
It’s a boon to 2nd Harvest to have fruit in a form that’s shelf stable, said Sarah MacPherson, food sourcing manager for the organization.
“We love getting [fruit] in their pure form,” she said. “But we do run up against the clock.”
With the squeeze tubes, there’s more time to reach needy families, MacPherson said.
Tree Top won’t know if it’ll produce more Fruit Squeezes this year until the co-op finds out how much fruit is left over in August, after the harvest.
It also needs to figure out how to make the packaging more economical to produce. Each package, by regulation, needs to say what specific ingredients are in it, but the co-op’s fruit inventory may be different each time, necessitating costly changes to the packaging.
Still, the company’s intention is to make more Fruit Squeezes to find “homes for homeless fruit,” Miracle said.