A team of enthusiastic Melbourne volunteers known as the Darebin Fruit Squad have solved the problem of what to do when a backyard fruit tree does into overdrive.

In 2013, community group Transition Darebin realised that a mass of fruit was being wasted in their area (in Melbourne's northern suburbs) because householders couldn't use it all, or didn't know how to look after their trees.

In its first year the Darebin Fruit Squad proved so popular that it helped distribute more than 1000kg of fruit.  Three years later, it now has over 120 householders registered and 4152kg of fruit harvested to date.  The collected fruit is distributed through emergency relief food security services including SecondBite, Darebin Food Bank and The Salvation Army.

Martin O'Callaghan, the squad's coordinator, working as part of the Darebin Information Volunteer and Resource Service (DIVRS), said householders were initially contacted via letterbox drops and local market and festival stalls.  "We soon discovered behind those neighbourhood fences there's a much larger urban orchard than we though." O'Callaghan said.

The squad harvests a wide variety of backyard fruit, including apples, plums, apricots, oranges, lemons, persimmons, pears and grapes.  when a new household contacts the squad they receive a friendly visit from experienced volunteers.

"For us it's about finding out their (householder) expectations and an opportunity to check the tree's health and what fruit will be available.  Once a backyard tree is on or list, we send out reminders when it's harvest time and arrange to pick the fruit (leaving a portion for the householder) and disposing of any rotten pieces." O'Callaghan said.  "For some households with more than one fruit tree this can happen three or four times a year."

Darebin Fruit Squad also runs fruit tree maintenance workshops as a natural extension of their rescue work.  "We've been contacted by people whose parents were the ones looking after the backyard trees, but the skills weren't passed on.  There are also people interested in growing their own produce and increasing their knowledge we run general workshops on pruning and maintenance, even fruit preserving and pickling."

While the squad receives some funding from Darebin City Council and the DIVRS, they ave been looking at other ways to bee financially sustainable.  "Through the urban food program grant from the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation, we are setting up a small urban orchard business selling root stock fruit trees that have local heritage fruit wood grafted onto them.  We hope to sell these trees back to the neighbourhood increasing our local urban food supply," O'Callaghan said.

"For us, it's an important part of maintaining and preserving our precious urban trees and teaching locals how to keep their backyard fruit trees healthy for future generations."

Words by Kaye Roberts-Palmer, Published in Organic Gardner July/August 2017, p12