When I moved to Gisborne from America, some early helpful advice came at the grocery store. As I stood in the queue to pay for my shopping, which included lemons, the lovely woman working at the till said, “Oh hon, don’t you know anyone with a lemon tree? You should never have to buy lemons in Gizzy.”
I’ve since found many a lemon tree, but still marvel at the sheer abundance of fruit in the region. One local team of rangatahi has figured out a way to ensure this abundance doesn’t go to waste, by picking excess fruit and sharing it with the community.
They call themselves Pik Up, and this year alone they’ve picked over 4 tonnes of fruit, including apples, pears, plums, citrus and avocados. Kai has always brought people together, but Pik Up sees even greater opportunities to reduce waste and offer access to free, healthy food in a time when food costs are soaring.
The project arose out of a brainstorming session in October 2021 at Tāiki E Next Generation, which hosts weekly gatherings to promote leadership and entrepreneurship in young people. The rangatahi zeroed in on the problem of food waste (nearly 3,000 tonnes every year!), in a community where many would appreciate the kai. They went straight to work to employ technology as a tool to address this paradox.
The result is a platform that enables people in the community - people like you or me - to register any trees they have with excess fruit. The team then coordinates volunteers to pick fruit from those trees and share the bounty: a third of the fruit goes to the trees’ owner, a third is provided to the community, and a third stays with the volunteers who picked it.
Fruit goes to the community via pātaka kai, many of which were built by Boys High students through the Young Enterprise Scheme. There are 11 pātaka kai strewn across town, and Pik Up continues to build more. The newest is on Dixon St, a heavy foot traffic area that connects Wainui Road to Kaiti.
The team is led by Josh, who is managing the technology and administrative roles, although the office work is certainly not his favourite aspect of the job. Josh is passionate about growing food, increasing access to healthy kai, and reducing food waste. Within just a few months of that first brainstorming session, a platform had been built, they were picking by the height of summer, and they “haven’t looked back.”Josh emphasizes that Pik Up is “not a response to solve poverty,” but rather an opportunity “to share aroha.”
It’s been a learning process and they’ve altered the model a bit as they’ve gone along, but the systems are getting dialed. Generally Josh takes students picking every Wednesday after school, and they fill the pātaka the following day. But picking days and times can vary, depending on weather and the landowner’s preference, and adults are welcome to come along too. The current team is made up of about 9 young people, ranging in age from 14-18 from a few different schools.
Josh is originally from California, and lived many years in Hawaii and Indonesia before settling with his whānau in Gizzy. He is also a photographer, and alongside his wife, a graphic designer, operated a business helping local organisations in Indonesia tell their stories, which provided him a lot of social work experience.
Josh enjoys hanging out with his young crew, and the feeling is mutual. Team member Manawa says “Josh is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, he’s cool as.” On a typical picking day, the crew meets at Tāiki E after school and loads their ladder, picking poles and bins into Josh’s car. After a stop for the team’s favourite potatoes at Perfect Roast, they’re off and running. Mokoia, another key member of the team, reckons he was “anti-social” before getting involved, and now really appreciates the social aspect of the work. They usually pick for up to two hours, and jobs vary in size, some as small as 10-15 kilos.
They work steadily, but there is also space for fun. Manawa describes the discovery of mandarins remarkable for their resemblance to butt cheeks, and a contest ensued to see who could find the most. There are also tales of dances dodging grapefruits big enough to knock one unconscious, and Instagram-worthy feats of kicking an orange and then catching it in one go. But when it comes down to it, Manawa “just really enjoys picking and doing good stuff for the community.”
As for Pik Up’s future, Josh sees a lot of potential, especially with the product they are left with from time to time. Josh envisions creating a new fruit product from that surplus, making juice or cocktail mixers. He also sees a need for offering more services to homeowners, who often don’t know how to prune their trees. “Many of these trees are old and valuable, and should be tended for future generations.” And he’d also like to be planting more fruit trees too.
To help support their growth, the team would love to see more web traffic, and more people registering their trees. They’re always on the lookout for partners in other local community organisations who can help distribute food to those in need. And they would warmly welcome more picking hands, especially adults who can volunteer during school hours. There’s no pressure to come regularly or often, and no experience necessary.
One thing Josh has observed during the hours of picking is the easy flow of conversation while they work. “When we’re juicing or cutting and de-seeding plums, the chats we have are great. And you see this in people around the world and throughout time, that processing food has always brought people together.” Why not trade out the conference room table for the trees, and have a hui while picking together?
As you would expect, the community response has been super positive. “When we fill the pātaka and people walk by, we always get smiles, high fives, and good kōrero.” Manawa adds, “sometimes the pātaka by my aunty’s is pumping, heaps of people getting fruit, and that’s mean.” And since they’ve started picking, they’ve noticed other people filling the pātaka too, an indication that their mahi is as inspiring as it is practical.
To learn more and get involved, go to www.PikUp.nz
Story by Victoria Williams
Photo Sarah Cleave