Community enjoys the pick of the crop

Waitati Open Orchard member Hilary Rowley munches on an apple picked from a communal apple tree...
Waitati Open Orchard member Hilary Rowley munches on an apple picked from a communal apple tree in the Waitati area. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Food resilience is a communal effort for Waitati area residents, thanks to the green-thumbed Waitati Open Orchard project.

Founded 15 years ago, the low-key group has planted and cares for dozens of fruit trees on verges around the district, including apples, pears, quinces, apricots and plums. As the fruit ripens, locals are encouraged to take what they need, while leaving fruit for others to enjoy as well.

Waitati Open Orchard founding member Hilary Rowley said the open orchard came about after a suggestion at a community meeting, and had "just grown from there". Many of the fruit trees were supplied by Jason Ross of Habitate heritage fruit nursery.

"The call was made for people who felt they had space on their roadsides to have fruit trees, and who were willing to keep an eye out for them, and then we had a working bee and planted a whole lot of trees out," Ms Rowley said.

In general the fruit trees are under the care of local residents, and if extra maintenance is required, the word will go out and a working bee will be held.

"Sometimes Jason might lead a pruning workshop and teach people how to look after the fruit trees properly, which is very helpful.

"It is pretty casual, but it seems to work quite well."

The Waitati Open Orchard project has its own juicer, and occasionally residents will make apple juice or cider from a crop.

As a keen forager herself, Ms Rowley is very keen on the open orchard concept and growing food in public spaces in general.

"Being able to forage for fruit is a real joy, and it is so important that we nurture local sources of food for everyone to access," she said.

"It is something we will need more of as we face the challenges of the future."