Fruit for the taking
Neighborhood Fruit seeks to end waste by creating an online network
Kaytea Petro, co-founder of Neighborhood Fruit, walked to work everyday by a neighbor's apple tree. Hungry, she wanted to grab one. Yet, she knew she didn't want to steal anything, but even her outgoing personality wouldn't bring her to ask the neighbor if she could take some.
With all the fruit trees on private as well as public land, she dreamed of connecting the hungry with people who had excess crop.
Joining forces with Oriana Sarac, who is part of the more technical side of the operation, the two founded neighborhoodfruit.com, a website and iPhone application that connects people to available fruit. While the majority of its 4,000 users are in Northern California, there are also many others scattered across the country in New York, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Seattle and beyond.
Rotten fruit littering a backyard is not only annoying, but wasteful.
"Our conservative estimate of how much backyard fruit goes to waste is around 116 million pounds annually," Petro said, noting the estimate is based U.S. Census data.
While there isn't much data to support a similar estimate for fruit on public land, she said she would guess that the figures are similar.
"It seems like such a shame that there is such a useful and nourishing thing that's being wasted," she added.
Jimy Uranwala, a Pleasanton resident for the past 21 years, recently listed some of his abundant crops to the site after his daughter told him about it. In his backyard are lime, cherry, grapefruit and orange trees and many times he has a hard time using and giving away all that he grows.
Through the site, he even met up with people from Milpitas who were interested in some of the fruit he offered.
While there isn't much Neighborhood Fruit activity in the area yet, Uranwala said he hopes the community will join together in this effort.
"With issues of the economy, money and waste and recycling, (Neighborhood Fruit) addresses those things," he said.
Of course, there is something to be said about safety when opening up your location to the world. Uranwala said he is comfortable posting his home and enjoys meeting new people.
It's just like doing a (transaction) through Craigslist or Freecycle, he said. And if someone isn't comfortable with people coming into their backyard, they can leave a box of fruit out front, he added.
Petro said initially, they expected to get the most feedback from the people getting free fruit, but have actually heard most from people giving it away.
"They are feeling really excited not to see the fruit rotting on their lawn," she said. "They also like meeting someone in their community who is appreciative of this gift."
Neighborhood Fruit was started in 2009, with the beta launch in June. As the site grows, they hope to grow their product as well. Petro said her goal is to secure funding for the site to take it to 20,000 to 30,000 users this year.
With opening the services to more people, they are planning to charge for the services around June of this year. The plan, while still being worked out, would likely include a nominal fee where you could pay to use it for a month, as well as a premium service that would have features for professional users. Currently, the iPhone application is 99 cents.
There are many groups glad to utilize the site, including area food banks and nonprofits looking to feed the needy. Petro said they hope to secure a grant to build a data management tool for the nonprofits and food banks to track the use of the site and amount of fruit collected. There are also those who need large amounts of fruit to make and sell jam, for instance.
When mentioning the service to friends, Uranwala said he hears about people saying they don't have time to participate. It's as easy as email, he said, and would take the same amount of time as going to the Farmer's Market where you have to pay for it.