Lease a Tree: Community Supported Fruit from Local Farms

Come mid-September, there are very few things better than an afternoon spent in an apple orchard and eating crisp apples right from the tree. Now some orchard owners are finding a better way to capture that experience for their customers while capturing a fair price for the fruits of their labor as well, and it looks a bit like Community Supported Agriculture.

Here's the deal: you pay a reasonable price at the beginning of the spring, usually between 50 and 100 dollars to lease a fruit tree. The folks who run the orchard look after your tree and take care of it for you throughout the summer and in the fall, when the tree is heavy-laden with fruit, you venture out and pick as much as you like from your tree. Alternatively, some orchards will offer delivery service if you can't make it out to your tree. I don't know if you could exactly call it a fruit share, because you get it all at once rather than a weekly fruit and berry share that some farms offer, but it works about the same way.

Leasing a tree might not be for everyone, but if you can happily deal with apples or peaches coming out your ears for a month this is a great (and cheap!) way to get enough sustainable, local fruit to last you all winter. Fresh fruit can be turned into applesauce and other canned preserves to extend the harvest, and under the right conditions, can be stored fresh for long periods of time even if you don't have an actual root cellar. And it works out well for the farmer too. Most orchards who have leasing programs will lease about a third of their trees, leaving a third for pick your own customers, and a third for wholesale and other markets. Leasing a tree ensures that at least a third of the harvest will be sold at a steady price. And while 50 bucks may seem like a bargain for your very own tree full of apples (depending on the tree's production, it can work out to about $.50 per pound of fruit. That's four times less than most sustainable, organic apples at the market!),  it's actually a pretty good deal for the farmer. According to one farmer in New York,  fifty cents a pound is almost twice as much as a farmer can sell conventional apples for. Furthermore, because all the farmer has to do is take care of the tree up until harvest, the system negates any of the costly picking and cleaning activities that would normally prepare apples for the market.

Leasing a tree creates a closer connection between people and their produce through harvest. What if you could lease other things too--say, a maple tree or a goat! Or what if small farms started leasing plots that they would plant and maintain and all you had to do was show up and pick as the vegetables came in? I'm not sure how it would all play out, or if other models will work as well as the lease a tree system seems to, but I do love the fact that such a model would bring folks once step closer to the source of their food.

photo credit: ginnerobot