Sharing Produce


Words: Denise Irvine | Images: Vicki Ravlich-Horan

I was down to my last lemon in the coronavirus lockdown and this seemed like the most enormous culinary crisis. Almost any dish benefits from the magic of citrus, and I always get anxious when my tree hits its seasonal gap and I’m willing the green fruit to turn gold.

They’re not on the panic-shopping list, though, as it’s not in my Waikato DNA to buy the waxy supermarket imports. Lemons grow so plentifully here and the reliable Meyer is available pretty much year-round.

My neighbour Mary came to the rescue with a couple of lemons she’d picked from a friend’s tree. Following lockdown protocols, she left them in my letterbox, I washed them thoroughly, and added them to the ‘lonely only’ in the fruit bowl. Later, she kindly boosted my supply with another one.

The community kindness of sharing produce—in a safety conscious manner—is one of the things I’ll remember from lockdown. I’ve been the happy recipient of field mushrooms, Granny Smith apples, figs, rhubarb, sweet corn, quinces, kaffir limes, flowers, and a basket of sweet basil. I’ve done fig jam, stewed fruit, mushroom risotto and soup, and the limes, lemons and basil have zhuzhed up many meals. Quince paste is next.

Mary also made condiments in lockdown, including plum jam, plum chutney, fig and orange jam, and quince paste. “It will be something to show for this time,” she says. Some of the fruit was foraged on her early morning walks. Like the occasion she said hello to a man who was cutting grapes: he offered her some, she carefully manoeuvred her bag across the tall fence and he cut a bunch neatly into it. No contact involved.

A couple of households in our Claudelands neighbourhood have left excess produce at their gates, including pears and feijoas, available for people to help themselves and apply commonsense washing and quarantine procedures.

Friends report similar in other areas, with feijoas being the biggest giveaway. Angelique van Camp, of Wild Country Fine Foods in Te Kowhai has also enjoyed limes from a neighbour. She’s passed on abundant mint in return so the neighbour could make mojito cocktails. “It’s part of our community’s spirit,” she says.

Such generosity is familiar to Colleen Bourne, co-ordinator of Community Fruit Hamilton, a not-for-profit voluntary group that rescues and distributes produce that may otherwise go to waste. Community Fruit is like the mothership of produce-sharing. It has been operating for nine years and Colleen and her 16-year-old daughter Rebecca pretty much run it on their own, calling on teams of volunteers when there is a big pick to be tackled.

The organisation runs on the sniff of a fragrant feijoa; Colleen says it is in the process of becoming a charitable trust, which will give access to more funding. She is grateful to all the people who support them and she says the purpose is two-fold: “We’re trying to get fruit into communities that are unable to afford it, and we want to reduce food waste.”

The volunteer teams pick with the seasons from private properties and commercial orchards, and apples, citrus, plums, pears, persimmons figs and feijoas are among their staples. Colleen runs “jam sessions” at Fairfield College, where fruit is turned into condiments that can be distributed free or sold as a Community Fruit fundraiser. There is also a Big Squeeze in September to make marmalade and cordial with prolific citrus.

Last year, the teams picked more than 100 tonnes of fruit to distribute to needy families through Hamilton food rescue group Kaivolution, the Combined Christian Foodbank, various community pantries, and Facebook contacts.

Colleen often knocks on household doors when she sees fruit falling from laden trees. She’s never had a grumpy response and most times people tell her to go right ahead. “There is food everywhere that’s not being used.”

She says she’s programmed not to waste food; this lesson was learned during her childhood in rural Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where her family made a 650km trek to town for supplies just four times a year. “Nothing got wasted; my mother was manic about it.”

Community Fruit largely took a break during pandemic restrictions, not going onto properties to pick, and only distributing—in a safe, low-key way—produce delivered by people with excess.

Colleen says she saw a lot of kindness during lockdown, and also desperation from people struggling to feed their families. “The demand for free food has gone up.” She and other volunteers will be back to work when the time is right, picking and distributing fruit again throughout the city. Their work never ends.

And I’m hoping the informal neighbourhood networks established during lockdown will continue as well. My full fruit bowl has been testament to the value of sharing.

Community Fruit: ph 0212531526 or email

Share This Post