GREATER SEATTLE IS filled with fruit. Tens of thousands of fruit trees on public and private land make up our urban orchard. City Fruit, a local nonprofit food justice organization, is working to network and collectively tend that fruitful resource to fight hunger and build community.

Last year, even in the midst of unprecedented pandemic conditions, City Fruit volunteers and staff harvested more than 23,000 pounds of fruit. More than 21,000 pounds of top-quality fruit was donated to local food banks or meal programs, while the remaining harvest was shared with local cideries or distributed at neighborhood pop-up fruit stands. City Fruit Executive Director Annie Nguyen credits generous independent tree owners and dedicated volunteers for that diverse and bountiful harvest, and she has high hopes for this year’s growing season. “2021 is a reset year,” Nguyen says, “we’re really excited to get back out there and ramp back up to our pre-pandemic levels.”

As gardeners know, there’s more to growing fruit than harvesting. City Fruit efforts are a year-round endeavor that includes hands-on opportunities to learn about mulching, pruning, harvesting and controlling pests on homegrown fruit. Right now is a good time to reach out to City Fruit tree experts for pruning services that will increase fruit size and quality. And, if you happen to be facing a bumper crop of cherries, plums, apples, pears, quince, grapes, crab apples, persimmons or kiwis, then register your tree(s) on the City Fruit website (cityfruit.org). Once you complete a “Harvest Authorization Form,” you’ll be added to this year’s harvesting schedule.

While the organization’s harvesting capacity is limited, anyone with excess fruit can pitch in by signing up for the U-Pick harvest option. Rather than distributing and picking up plastic crates like the group has done in the past, this year, in an effort to streamline the process and minimize contact amid a pandemic, City Fruit is requesting that people pick their fruit into paper bags.

“We’ll collect paper bags off of people’s porches or their driveways or their backyards, then take the fruit back to our office to sort,” Nguyen explains. Fruit tree owners are requested to separate top-quality fruit from smaller, bruised or less-than-ripe fruit, which can still be processed or delivered to farms as animal feed. Windfall fruit is acceptable, just bag it separately to protect the quality of freshly picked fruit.

City Fruit’s effort to save all fruit and minimize food waste includes partnering with local cideries. Nguyen says she dreams of working with local bakers and jam-makers to create shelf-stable products like apple butter or plum jam.

“Fresh fruit is important, but it only lasts for so long,” she says.

The dream still is in the R&D stage, and like all of their work, depends on funding. For a donation of $5 a month, you can become a City Fruit member and receive discounts on City Fruit tree care services, and at select regional nurseries and a number of local cideries. Visit the group’s website to sign up for the City Fruit monthly newsletter for seasonal fruit tree tending tips, volunteer opportunities, updates on this year’s harvesting schedule and cider-pressing events, and information about the Harvest Celebration fundraiser this fall.