Anne O’Mahoney had too many apples.
“We have three apple trees in the back garden, which is at least two, and arguably three, too many,” she says.
Each year, she had to get out a ladder, climb up and try to pick hundreds of apples herself. She tried to deploy her three children, but found that they weren’t much help.
And all her work just gave her another problem – what to do with all that fruit.
“We had been wandering around and going to markets, trying to find people to press apples on, giving them away at work and desperately trying to get rid of them,” she says.
So she was relieved to discover Falling Fruit, an organisation that comes and picks all your unwanted fruit and donates it to local charities.
“They came and they took the apples, they were really efficient and brought their own ladders,” says O’Mahoney, who lives in Phibsborough.
She hopes they are coming back to her this year, she says.
Bernie Brannick saw the idea on YouTube. A group called Abundance Manchester were doing it over in England.
To Brannick it was a no-brainer. “I thought, ‘I have to do this,’” she says. “There is food growing all around us, and there are people who are not getting enough food to eat.”
It was 2014 when Brannick got in touch with Green Communities, an environmental programme run by An Taisce, who helped her to promote the idea. She began recruiting volunteers and looking for donors – people with too much fruit.
You mightn’t expect to find a lot of excess fruit in Dublin, but “it’s everywhere”, says Brannick, with a laugh. “A lot of people have fruit trees in their back garden.”
“You can imagine a household where the family have grown up and gone away and maybe an elderly couple don’t have the energy or ability to collect the fruit and process it, so it just goes to waste,” she says.
As well as private households, there are also orchards, sometimes in institutions, scattered around the city, she says.
By 2015, Falling Fruit was up and running, and volunteers were picking masses of fruit.
So Brannick had to find charities to donate it to. “The first year we were doing it we were delivering large quantities to the charities and maybe giving them too much,” she says.
But then she partnered with Food Cloud, who, she says “are absolutely fantastic”. The Irish tech project connects businesses like supermarkets, which have excess food, with charities that need food. It’s been up and running for five years and estimates that it has saved 18 million meals from going to landfill.
“At my request they kept it as local as possible, so we collected fruit in Dun Laoghaire and it went to a charity in Dun Laoghaire,” Brannick says.
Brannick is keen to expand Falling Fruit.
This year she hopes to organise groups to work within a given area. These would find unwanted fruit locally, go out and pick it, and hopefully find a charity within that area to donate it to.
“I think people donating would like to know the fruit is going to a local organisation where possible,” she says.
So she is looking for volunteers to organise local projects. “Of course, I will train them and organise them and everything,” she says. “I want to get it up and running in a few parts of Dublin this year, and then expand next year.”
She has some volunteers lined up to branch out within their own areas already, and says she expects to have groups established in Dublin 12 and Dublin 13, and she’ll cover Dublin 3 and Dublin 9 herself.
Most of the fruit will be picked in the autumn, but the volunteers can get started with plums as soon as next month, she says.
Volunteers will sort through all the fruit, says Brannick. Nothing will be wasted, as fruit that looks less than perfect can still be used to make jam, she says.
Brannick also plans to spread start gleaning this year. “Gleaning is huge in the UK,” she says.
When farmers grow vegetables, they can often only sell the ones that look perfect, so gleaning is going in and picking all the other vegetables – the ones that are left behind, she says.
“Usually it is vegetables that don’t look so perfect,” she says. “Then we could distribute that food to charities as well.”
One of the charities that Brannick is really excited about helping is Crosscare, which runs not-for-profit community cafes.
These are open to everyone and help people living in food poverty to access home-cooked meals, says Brannick.