DesBrisay Dines

ANNE’S PICKS: Talking nuts and fruits (and community action) with Hidden Harvest Ottawa

Serviceberries in bloom. Hidden Harvest, a local organization that believes our city should plant and harvest more edible trees, wants Ottawans to use this produce more effectively

By Anne DesBrisay

When your serviceberry blooms in early spring it’s best to call in sick. Spend the day camped beside it,  staring, slack-jawed, at the stunning cloud of glimmering white blossoms in front of you, cause it won’t last. These babies flower for about 10 minutes. But lordy, what a show!

They look like tiny gardenia on delicate, wispy branching. And then, poof, gone. But wait, just wait… come July, there’s deep purple berries to pick, pastry to roll out and pies to make. My Saskatchewan friends call them Saskatoonberries, and if you have any prairie roots, so do you.

I planted two Serviceberries a few years ago, keen to introduce more native plants to my garden. When poking around the Main Street Farmers’ Market a few weeks ago, I discovered the Hidden Harvest stand, got chatting with Katrina Siks, its co-founder, and was happy to hear I had done right in putting in these trees.

Hidden Harvest believes local trees that bear nuts and fruits could be feeding Ottawa's hungry, its homeowners, and HH's volunteer harvesters

I had met Katrina before — at a dinner and lecture on Food Security — and knew she was a big believer in the power of food bearing trees in our city, in harvesting food that would otherwise go to waste, in giving plucked food to Food Banks and connecting edible-tree owners to keen-eaters. And here she was selling trees at the Market, wrapped in burlap and ribbon, showing off Hidden Harvest jams and jellies made with the harvested fruit, giving out samples of black walnuts and Korean pine nuts.

Katrina Siks and Jason Garlough are the principals of Hidden Harvest, an organization that believes our city should plant and harvest more edible trees. Trees that bear nuts and fruits, trees that could be feeding the hungry, the homeowner, the volunteer harvesters.

In fact, the organization founded by these enormously compelling young people does just that. Its mandate is to get more food bearing trees in the ground in Ottawa, and to get more folk picking their bounty, giving apples to the Food Bank, making crabapple jelly and grape jam, saskatoonberry pies, crushing nuts for pesto, donating time and skill to feed the city with a bounty that would otherwise feed only squirrels and rot on the vine.

Hidden Harvest sells native fruit and nut bearing trees in the spring and again in the fall — Apple trees, Asian Pear, Heartnut, Serviceberry, Paw Paw — and organizes picking and preserving parties at harvest time. Volunteers take home a quarter of the harvest. The rest goes to Food Banks, the canning party, and to the homeowner. HH’s goal is to make Ottawa a much more food-tree friendly city, and to create in the Capital, the largest urban orchard in Eastern Canada by the year 2018.  Cool eh?

Check out their enormously worthwhile work here.