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Case Study: Portland Fruit Tree Project

Paige Lighthip


Flagstaff Foodlink is a local nonprofit that “cultivates and celebrates local, healthy, equitable and resilient food systems in [their] community.” They are currently involved with a variety of projects, such as: eat local Tuesdays, garden ninja tours, Tour de Coop, and the Flagstaff Fruit Tree Project (FFTP). That last one is one of their more recent projects that aims to help increase food equity and cut back on food waste by setting up a gleaning system in Flagstaff. I am currently involved with a group of research students who are partnered with Flagstaff Foodlink to help them investigate what would work best in Flagstaff and the best way to execute the FFTP. Last semester’s group of research students came up with the idea for an interactive map of fruit trees on public lands.

It is the job of this semester’s group of students to use their research to carry out that idea. Not many of us have much experience with gleaning, so in an effort to gain some exposure each student has been given a different existing gleaning program to examine and analyze. These programs are all trying to accomplish something similar to what we are and we can use them as models for how to build the foundation of our own program. By looking at their successes we can learn what methods work best for certain intended outcomes, and by looking at what obstacles they ran into we can learn what to avoid. As we try and get our own program off the floor these other programs will provide clarity  and serve as a good source of inspiration for what we will be doing. However, it is important to keep in mind that each program is specifically tailored to the community in which it is based, and it is our job to determine what would work best for the Flagstaff community.

Case Study: Portland Fruit Tree project

The Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP) was created in 2006 and their mission statement is “to increase equitable access to healthful food and strengthen communities by empowering neighbors to share in the harvest and care of city-grown produce.” Their three main goals are: promote food justice, prevent food waste, and strengthen the community. They have two different initiatives through which they aim to achieve those goals, harvests and community orchards.

The PFTP has three different types of harvests that they organize. The most popular kind are backyard harvests. Backyard harvests are where PFTP organizes volunteers to go glean trees in resident’s backyard. Due to safety and security issues volunteers are not given the exact location of the tree until the day before the harvest, before then they are just given the general area so they still know where they are going. Partner harvests are when they organize volunteers to help glean local farms. Farms that are partnered with, or interested in partnering with, get in contact with PFTP to glean the leftover produce they couldn’t sell. Last, and more recently introduced, are DIY harvests, where they send you a kit (if you see a tree on public land that needs to be gleaned) and will come back later to pick up the box of fruit to donate if you would like. The majority of fruit from these harvests gets donated to food shelters and so far they have harvested over 400,300 pounds of fruit and donated over $520,000 worth of fruit to food banks.

Community orchards are another way PFTP aims to strengthen the community by promoting food justice. The orchards are either places PFTP has planted and started themselves, or orchards that already existed (whether on private or commercial land) and liked what the PFTP was doing and wanted to partner with them. The orchards are open to anyone and are dispersed all over the city, with five having been created so far. During harvest season anyone is welcome to the fruit and harvests are also organized to gather produce to send to food banks. During the off season the orchards still have ‘work parties’ once every other week or so. The parties are a way for volunteers to come together and do maintenance on the orchards so everything stays in order. Certain workshops also put on educational workshops year round.

Although the harvests and community orchards are initiatives started and managed by PFTP, it is important to note that they could not exist without community volunteers. The actual PFTP staff only consists of six members and one or two AmeriCorp interns. They also have about a dozen different harvest leaders. Harvest leaders are dedicated volunteers who go through training on how to lead a harvest. Each leader will lead about three different harvests events a season. When I interviewed Rachel, the co-chair of the project, she said the one thing they did not have issues with was volunteers. Currently they have over 11,000 active volunteers and she says that number has only been consistently growing along with the program. PFTP had to briefly shut down between summer 17 to summer 18, but they volunteers were so dedicated to the mission that the community orchards continued running even without any involvement from PFTP. Rachel said that was a moment when she realized sometimes it is better to be more hands off, as it gives others the chance to take leadership.  

The biggest constraints the PFTP faced was financial, it was the reason they had to briefly shut down. When they started back up again they switched a couple things. Before their all of their harvest programs used to be free and they did not sell any of the fruit they harvested, they did not have much funding besides what few grants and donations they could get. Now backyard harvest programs work on a sliding scale donation charge; what that means is you pay however much you feel you can pay. That way it does not exclude those who can’t afford to pay but still want to help out, where as those who can afford to pay for the experience and fruit they are getting donate what they can/want. Rachel said they have not had an issue with this type of system yet. The PFTP also has gets more grants now that they have progress to show how successful their program can be. They are also very active on social media, both as a way to reach out to more volunteers but also to announce donation campaigns for certain projects. The last way they get funding is a new event called Project Persimmon. They sold all the persimmons they harvested to local food establishments who incorporated them onto their menu. This served not only as a great way to raise funds, but also to get restaurants involved with using locally sourced produce.


The goals of the Portland and Flagstaff Fruit Tree Project are mostly the same, they just go about reaching those goals in different ways. Both programs aim to promote food equity and cut back and food waste. They are issues that go hand in hand, giving people access to healthy food fixes two problems at once. The third goal of the PFTP focuses on strengthening the community and the FFTP focuses on increasing resiliency. However, the FFTP still strengthens the community even if that is not one of their intended goals and the PFTP still increases resilience even though it is not one of their goals. Both the aims and outcomes of our programs are the same.

One big difference difference between the Portland Fruit Tree Project and the Flagstaff Fruit Tree Project is that the Portland Project’s main concern and focus is it’s gleaning initiatives, whereas the Flagstaff Project is just one of a few different projects that Flagstaff Foodlink is trying to organize. Since Portland is only focused on two projects they have more time, energy, and money to expend towards those projects. Their staff size is not that much bigger than the Flagstaff Foodlink staff, showing that a huge staff was not necessary for success. What was necessary for success for them was community involvement and volunteer response. Our map project may be initially started by Foodlink but the ultimate goal is for the community to use it to interact and keep it going.  

We could also learn from Portland’s fundraising ideas. Foodlink could do something similar to Project Persimmon, a lot of restaurants in town are already known to use locally sourced produce as much as they can. It will not only raise funds for the non-profit but will also help stimulate local economic growth. PFTP also does a lot of donation outreach through social media. Flagstaff Foodlink already has social media pages in place, the more they utilize them the greater the potential for outreach. That being said Portland does have a way larger population than Flagstaff, which may make it seem like they have the potential for more volunteers and donations. Social media has the power to give us that same potential, maybe we could reach out to other programs and see if they would mention us on their page to help our numbers grow.


Although there is not a lot we can learn for our map specifically, there is still a lot that we can learn from the Portland Fruit Tree Project. One thing being that Flagstaff Foodlink should not try to take on more than they can handle, or they may have to put things on pause. On the other hand, expanding their progress did open them up to more grants, giving them the power to grow bigger still. Social media outreach and working with local establishments were some other good fundraising ideas. The PFTP also showed that a large staff is not needed to be successful.

To learn even more about other gleaning programs Rachel suggested going to the gleaners symposium, which is held in Seattle in April, where representatives from programs like hers and ours all get together and share ideas.


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