Due to a unique rental program, fresh fruit has been available at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank for the past six weeks.
Bill Swartz of Thee Old Bagley Orchard in Talent is the man with the idea of renting apple and pear trees on his private orchard. On his own, Swartz rented ten trees at $100 dollars a piece, and in turn, donated $1,000 dollars to AEFB, along with plenty of fruit.
The 15-acre orchard, one of the oldest in the Rogue Valley, was a dream of Swartz and his wife Diane, who retired from careers in San Diego and moved to Gold Beach before purchasing the orchard two years ago.
"When we moved here two years ago, the orchard had not been tended for five years," Swartz said. "We wanted to restore it, and we did not want it to be commercial."
Swartz noted how trees are leased in this fashion in England, and how the orchard is so far removed from the hunger issue.
"My dream is for them to keep the money and the fruit year-round," Swartz said. "I want it to be a good fundraising idea."
Swartz said the orchard has about 300 pear trees, 100 apple trees and various others, including peaches, persimmons and figs. The orchard is also home to many rescued animals.
There are three different types of pears being grown, and one tree that has all three growing on it. The orchard founder, who the Swartzes refer to as Mr. Bagley, was "A master grafter."
Swartz, along with the AEFB, are continuing the rental program. At $50 dollars a tree, the yield of fruit is impressive.
"At first, 50 pounds was the average, per tree," Swartz said. "Now it is an average of 100 pounds of fruit per tree, and they are peaking right now."
The facility has cool storage, allowing them to store fruit year-round for the food bank.
The impact of the program has been felt at the food bank. AEFB Director, Ann Marie Hutson, said the donation has allowed the food bank to refrain from purchasing canned fruit, a tidy savings during the summer months.
"We have not had to buy canned fruit," Hutson said, "which is one of our most expensive purchases. We used to get the fresh stuff in dribs and drabs, and Bill has really sustained us."
The rent-a-tree campaign will get its big push next year, when the food bank will be able to create a more concentrated effort to do the appropriate fundraising. Hutson also said that at the end of the season, all those who rent a tree would receive a gift box, appropriate tax information and a pear.
According to Hutson, AEFB served 1,107 children and adults in both Ashland and Talent in August, and these numbers will increase. The food bank is seeing more individuals seeking assistance than ever before.
"This recession hit everyone, and benefits are running out for those who signed up early on," Hutson said. "Food Stamps only last an average of three weeks. During the first three days in September alone, we served 197 people, which equals 83 families."
She also added how Ashland is such a generous community, but one that likes to see how its money is spent, and the tree rental is the perfect opportunity to do that.
Hutson said the best way to become part of the rent-a-tree campaign is to contact The Ashland Emergency Food Bank at P.O. Box 3578, Ashland, Oregon 97520.