Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on July 24, 2017.  

Since moving to Kamloops five years ago I continue to be amazed at the abundance of summer bounty materialized as fresh produce. I will never reconcile to the presence of many ‘carpets’ of mostly crushed fruit, air full of ripe fragrance that serves no other purpose at that point but to attract bugs.

Some of these trees grow in green spaces rather than on someone’s property, while others lean outside of a property, fruit hanging heavy and inviting.

Should you find yourself in need of an impromptu summer treat, all you need to do is reach out and grab one. Moral dilemma ensues: should you? If the tree or berry bush grows on a property though the branches reach far out greeting you, should you pick one as you walk by, or abstain, since it’s someone else’s bounty.

I am still trying to find the right answer. I have now passed many a summer offering without picking any, only to find them later drying out on branches (the case of a beautifully-loaded cherry tree that was never picked), or fallen to the ground, mashed up and rendered inedible, save for the indulging birds and bugs (the case of many apricot trees I pass by daily.)

Compassion may inspire us to leave some fruit for the other participants in the big circle of life, yet as we do so, another dilemma surfaces: if small animals and birds are welcome to the party, what about the bigger guys such as deer and bears? Because they will show up as well, lack of official invites notwithstanding.

The last few days have been smoke-free in Kamloops. Blue skies, a few fair-weather clouds for good measure, clean(er) air to breathe. It’s almost too easy to ignore that the province is still under a state of emergency and fires are still raging, some very close to Kamloops, though by the mercy of the weather gods we have temporary smoke relief. More fires are to be expected, we’re told, hence the bans on open fires, campfires, and the many warnings on disposing of cigarette butts.

Everything in a fire’s path is at risk, and that includes food. It can be fresh farm produce found in harm’s way, or preserved food that gets spoiled due to warmth or lack of electricity (in case of freezers.) Then there’s blocked access for food trucks when highways are closed.

The last couple of weeks saw Kamloops step forth with donations for people and pets, and food was a big part of that. More will be offered, because the need is there and growing. It’s almost too easy to pass by a loaded fruit tree with crushed fruit on the ground and not think twice about it. It’s food, though, wasted.

I grew up with a ‘no if, ands or buts’ rule regarding food: it should not be wasted. Whether you grow it, buy it, or it grows in your proximity because someone or a nature itself decided to drop a seed there, it should not be wasted. Put another way, anything can and should be used, unless spoiled. Food, though plentiful at times, can become scarce at the drop of a hat.

There are so many examples of food scarcity around the world, some of which so severe people pay the ultimate price for it, daily. Food scarcity, fueled by changes occurring due to climate change, is not going to be solved anytime soon. And while no matter how well intentioned, there’s not much we can do to address the worst food crises around the globe (save for money donations from afar), we can recognize the plentiful bounty that a place like Kamloops is blessed with year after year.

Simply put, we can make use of the begging-to-be-picked fruit before it becomes unusable. I know people who go to the store and buy fruit while the fruit tree in the backyard is considered, at best, a nuisance due to the ‘mess’ it created on the lawn, fallen fruit, bugs and all.

If not all fruit agrees with your taste buds, fair enough. Offer it to friends, neighbours, or list it with the tireless volunteers working with the Gleaning Abundance project here in town. Harvested produce goes to feed the hungry, and volunteers share in the bounty. It’s a win, win, win. In a food-dominated society (just think of all the food channels, sites, and photographs bombarding us from all sides,) there is no excuse for wasting food, more so when available, plentiful, and free.

It’s about not taking even one mouthful for granted. It’s about gratefulness for gifts appearing at an arm’s length, literally.

For more information on becoming a gleaning volunteer or offering your harvest for picking, please visit http://gleaningabundance.com/