Observer Ethical Awards – Grassroots Projects – Entry

Written by Nicola from Abundance Manchester who also very kindly coordinated the information from all Abundance/Urban Harvest groups that currently form part of Abundance UK. Thanks Nicola!

Abundance started out as a project to harvest the seasonal glut of local fruit like apples, pear and plums. Each year hundreds of fruit trees go unpicked either because people don’t notice them, may not be physically able to harvest them or there are just too many fruits at one time. Abundance is a team of mostly volunteers who have helped harvest city fruit and redistributed the surplus to the community on a non-profit basis. It has developed in a number of places in the UK – Sheffield, Manchester, London (Brixton, Chiswick, Hackney, Haringey & Archway, Kilburn, Waltham Forest , West Ealing), Edinburgh, Bristol, Chesterfield, Leeds, Nottingham, and Southampton. Each Abundance has its unique character shaped by those involved. We harvest in backyards, church grounds, hospitals, car parks, industrial estates, waste land, streets, scrub, derelict property, private businesses, public authority housing, parks, green spaces and distribute fruit publicly to those in need.

Abundance groups also juice tonnes of fruit and make jams, chutneys and preserves which are given away or used to support the project (Chiswick, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Waltham Forest, West Ealing). Work continues through the seasonal cycle with tree planting, pruning and grafting workshops provided by some groups in order to enable local communities to learn how to look after their fruit trees so they will produce good harvests for years to come (Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Waltham Forest).

Other activities include growing and distributing produce (Manchester; Sheffield), and collecting vegetables from local allotment holders to redistribute nearby (Manchester).

Ethical relevance

A practical solution to the problems of food waste and food security, Abundance shows the potential there is for feeding ourselves in urban areas, and re-engages us with what’s literally growing on our doorsteps! These projects also focus on zero waste and cutting food miles/carbon footprints by collecting and distributing seasonal and locally-grown fresh produce to local people who need it. Tree owners and volunteers are ‘paid’ in fruit, juice, or jams, while any money raised from selling these products is used to fund project core costs (e.g. in Sheffield, Waltham Forest, and West Ealing).
Overall, Abundance projects reconnect us with our food supply, re-skill people in gardening and/or cooking, rebuild community spirit, improve biodiversity through looking after the food resources we have around us, and contributes to healthy eating. The projects show us that positive environmental, ethical, and social impacts can be achieved with just the support of a few passionate volunteers.

How has the project been organised/any recognitions?

Abundance groups, or those with similar goals and values, have emerged all over the UK since 2005. A key to its success is the continued help of local, dedicated volunteers to pick and distribute fruit, plus residents and allotment holders who are willing to donate their produce. Normally, an Abundance group is established by a few volunteers who have identified local public spaces or contacted residents with private gardens where surplus fruit can be harvested. Publicity to attract fruit donations and more volunteers is put in places such as the local media, local libraries, and local healthfood shops. At the same time, local community and/or social groups in need of fresh produce are identified and contacted to ask if they would like to receive produce collected. The work is very seasonal to coincide with the glut of harvested produce such as apples and pears. So from August to the end of October, regular pickings and distributions are made.

Since its emergence, Abundance projects have gained positive appraisals in the national and local media, including in The Guardian (Sheffield, Manchester, West Ealing, Leeds, Edinburgh and Nottingham), on Channel 4’s River Cottage (Sheffield), BBC North West Tonight news (Manchester), The Garden Magazine of the RHS (Waltham Forest), the Saturday Times (Sheffield and Manchester), The Ecologist, The New Statesman, and Resurgence. Recipients have praised Abundance groups as the produce delivered often accounts for a substantial part of the food they receive (Destitution Project in Manchester; Autism Plus and Sure Start groups across Sheffield).

Future project plans e.g. possible impact on others if the project raises its profile?

Abundance has already spread across the UK, mainly by word of mouth. It is a simple idea, easy to initiate, requires little funding, and can be adapted to any size area. The Abundance group in Sheffield have generously shared publicity materials and have produced a comprehensive handbook to help people on their way, so there is nothing to stop anyone who hears about it from setting up their own project. The ultimate aim of Abundance is to fragment until every neighbourhood has its own group, and no one has to walk very far to pick their fruit. At the same time, Abundance groups have already started branching out into other areas: fruit tree mapping, planting trees, pruning, educating people about how to grow and use their fruit, other kinds of produce, etc. All of which create plenty for future generations. Abundance is about getting people working together; the trees are just the excuse!

Why should Abundance win this category?

Abundance acts at the grassroots level, whilst addressing environmental and social justice issues across the UK (and beyond), positively. It helps to reduce food miles (thus carbon emissions), by sourcing and harvesting locally-grown and seasonal fresh produce, then distributes this within a short distance of where it is collected from. It also reduces food waste by harvesting produce that would otherwise be thrown away, or left to rot.

Central to Abundance’s philosophy is its voluntary collection and redistribution of sourced fresh produce to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it or know where to find it. Volunteering for Abundance is open to all, regardless if you have no previous gardening or tree climbing abilities! And it’s fun! Furthermore, the free skill-share events provided by some Abundance groups enable a diverse range of people to learn about the healthy food sources which surround them, and provide opportunities for participants to develop the confidence to practice these skills.

Our cities are covered in fruit and nut trees planted years ago. Abundance claims and celebrates this shared inheritance as well as teaching the skills needed to perpetuate the harvest.

Abundance is about taking control of our food and sustainability, together.


2 thoughts on “Observer Ethical Awards – Grassroots Projects – Entry

  1. Hello
    I have been thinking about all the wasted fruit locally and found this site by chance. I am not sure if there is a local scheme but wondered if you would know of a local contact as I would like to know more. I live in Hastings East Sussex



    1. Hi Darren I try and keep track of all Abundance/Urban harvest schemes I know of by providing links to them under ‘useful websites’ To date I have no knowledge of any schemes in your area. However you do have a Transition Towns group in your area and they are probably the best people to talk to in relation to any Abundance schemes. Of course you could always set up your own! Cheers. Diane


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