Celebrating the wonder of apples

Leeds Urban Harvest, Skinner Street, Apple enthusiasts Lizzie Fellows (left) and Jenny Briard.
Leeds Urban Harvest, Skinner Street, Apple enthusiasts Lizzie Fellows (left) and Jenny Briard.
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Harvest time: Each year community groups in leeds come together to promote the humble apple. This year it takes place in headingley at the weekend. Julie marshall reports.

The nights are drawing in, the wind is blowing chill and our thoughts are turning to cosy firesides, woolly jumpers and hearty stews for tea. Autumn is finally here after a balmy Indian summer we hoped would never come to an end.

October is also a key apple-picking month and October 21 is officially designated as Apple Day, when organisations throughout the country celebrate the contribution this humble fruit has made to our diets for many thousands of years.

The idea behind Apple Day is to bring local communities together to celebrate apples, orchards and all the fruits of our common spaces, gardens and allotments.

As well as the apples in commercial orchards, there are thousands of trees growing in gardens across our cites - Leeds included; trees whose fruit goes un-picked and falls rotting to the floor because their owners don’t know how and when to pick it and what to do with it once they do.

The theme of this year’s Apple Day is ‘Waste not...’ and in Leeds it has been organised as a partnership event on October 18 (the closest weekend to the ‘official’ Apple Day) involving Headingley Development Trust, Headingley Farmers’ Market, Headingley Community Orchard, Headingley in Bloom, Urban Harvest and HEART.

One of the organisers Helen Seymour says: “Apple Day was initiated by Common Ground in 1990 as a way of demonstrating that variety and richness matter to a locality and that it is possible to effect change where you live.

“This year in Headingley, our Apple Day includes apple pressing using apples from local gardens, allotments and fields to the accompaniment of live music, Morris dancing and Dr Marvello, a children’s magician so there will be lots for children to do.

“We are holding a discussion session on the theme of Waste not.... with a panel of speakers including Adam Smith from Real Junk Food in Armley and Steve Shillitoe from Urban Harvest.

“In addition, Mark Simmonds founder of a cider co-op in Calderdale will run a workshop on cider making and Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth will show how to have a bee-friendly garden.”

Apple Day is an initiative very close to the hearts of the volunteers from Urban Harvest, a community organisation that picks surplus fruits from trees and then, once the trees’ owners have had their share, distributes the rest to community groups in Leeds.

It was set up four years ago by a small group of enthusiasts who secured grants for apple-picking equipment, apple presses and pasteurising machines and who now carry out regular picking and juicing sessions, producing their own-brand bottles of Urban Harvest apple juice which sells for £1 a bottle.

Mainstay of the four-strong group is 32-year-old postal worker Jenny Briard, who devotes a great deal of her spare time to sourcing and picking surplus apples and finding new groups and outlets to help out.

“Because of my job I am always on the lookout for surplus apples,” she says.

The collected apples are taken to All Hallows Church in Hyde Park which has been very supportive and allows the group to store their processing equipment there. Fellow organiser Lizzie Fellows, 30, says: “It’s a lot of hard work for four people and we’d love more people to get involved so we can develop our network further.

“Apple season starts in August and we get plenty of interest until September but when the nights draw in and it gets cold it ends up with just a few of us picking apples. It’s a lot of work for a few people. “After our latest picking day our juicing session lasted eight hours and we created around 60 litres of juice.”

Urban Harvest are educators as well as innovators and encourage tasting sessions at all stages of the apple juicing process. “When apple juice is first pressed it has a distinctive taste which changes within two minutes and then again after five minutes,” explains Jenny. “What we always get, the first time anyone tries the juice is that they exclaim that it tastes nothing like the juice they can buy in the shops.

“Our juice has nothing added at all and once pasteurised it can be kept for up to a year without spoiling.

“Our equipment is available for hire for any community group in Leeds who want to pick and juice their own apples. We’ve set it as a nominal £20 charge as we want to keep it as affordable as possible.”

In some ways, the group is a victim of its own success. They have made their equipment available to small community groups all over the city to allow them to juice their own fruit but, by doing that there are fewer volunteers to go around.

Lizzie admits they could do with a few more people to take on the “nitty-gritty” jobs of organising.

“For example we need to keep track of where the trees are, when they fruit and how accessible they are when they are ready for harvest.

“We would also like to hear from anyone who has specialist knowledge of horticulture who could join us. We have people we can call on when we need advice but it would be good to have an expert on board.”

lHeadingley Apple Day takes place on Saturday at Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (HEART), Bennett Road, Headingley, Leeds LS6 3HN.

lIf you’d like to volunteer to help Urban Harvest with their work contact the team on www.leedsurbanharvest@gmail.com

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