Fruit for the picking


There is a little known secret in the Top of the South - Free Food for the picking. Yes, fruit trees are now being grown in public places, parks and schools, for us to enjoy. Over the past 20 years the Councils in the Top of the South have planted hundreds of fruit and nut trees in publicly accessible places. This is the product of several initiatives over the years and, while local councils naturally reap the kudos, credit belongs to several caring and very creative individuals.

Open Orchards logo
Click image to enlarge

Fruit trees in public spaces offer a myriad of benefits. Most obvious is making natural healthy food available to all. In fact, one initiative, Open Orchards, was initiated by the Nutrition and Activities Programme (NPA) of the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board (NMDHB) to fight obesity. The NPA identified obesity as an epidemic. Open Orchards is one element in turning around this epidemic, and the district is the first in New Zealand, and one of the first in the world, to adopt such a holistic long term approach.

Hand in hand with the strategy is education and community involvement. Open Orchards works with schools and pre-schools, offering fruit trees and helping them build vegetable gardens. In addition, these hands-on learning experiences extend to healthy meal preparation, thus establishing comprehensive life-long healthy eating attitudes. 

In Nelson, an eager partner to Open Orchards was found in the Nelson Community Organic Gardens Trust, which has coordinated the establishment of six areas in Nelson and Tasman to plant fruit trees. These include Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council park space and some schools. And that, said Chairman Nick Kiddey, is just a starter. The Marlborough District Council has also planted edible fruit trees on public land in their region as part of the Council's commitment to providing resources for the community good.

Open orchards displayed on Top of the South maps. Click image to enlarge

The Open Orchards plan had a five year budget from NMDHB. Outside of this, individuals make incredible contributions to the programme, the community and to our environment. The Top of the South is blessed with an abundance of passionate and knowledgeable gardeners and nature lovers. In 2000 Nelson's small Jewish community planted an olive orchard alongside QE II Drive, as a symbol of peace and gratitude. In conjunction with the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust, Edith Shaw ‘single-handedly' spearheaded the creation of ‘wildlife corridors', continuous green habitats connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities such as buildings and roads. Towards that end Edith grew trees from seed, and approached nurseries and organisations to donate hundreds of fruit bearing trees. These she proceeded to offer to residents at no cost, and has even harnessed them to keep track of the bird activity triggered by the trees.

Clearly, Open Orchards are healthy beyond the scope of nutrition. The planting-bees, education, and awareness associated with them all contribute to building stronger and more resilient communities. People have something in common, a shared project, and one which is designed to serve in perpetuity. Indeed, planting a tree is an act of utmost optimism and altruism, as the fruit will most likely be enjoyed by subsequent generations, not necessarily the person planting. 

Growing food in public spaces, even beyond fruit-bearing trees, is a growing trend worldwide. More and more, communities are realising that better use can be made of public land and, rather than spend money on extensive lawn care and unproductive park or indeed wasteland, food can be grown. In a world where transport issues are undeniable and the benefits of fresh locally grown produce are a consensus, change must accommodate reason. The holistic trend is therefore sure to continue and expand within our beautiful region as well.

Free fruit for the picking is a secret no more. Nelson City and Tasman District Council's GIS Top of the South Maps and  Google map both show the precise locations of these fruit and nut trees in the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough regions. The websites may not be fully current, and many more trees have been planted or matured since it was last updated. And even more are yet to come.

So keep your eyes open, you'll see them. Help yourself. But "Be fair, take just your share... and leave some for others," advise local councils.


This article was submitted as part of a Nelson Marlborough Insititute of Technology Creative Writing assignment, 2013. Updated May 2020

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  • What a splendid idea! When are the City Fathers going to get to that? Soon, I hope.

    Posted by Alison Seagar, 29/11/2013 6:45pm (10 years ago)

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