INTERVIEW: Karen Liebreich from Abundance London

Alex and Chloe sat down with Karen Liebreich, author, historian and gardener, to find out about Abundance London. They are essentially a scrumping charity! With the help of their educational programmes, school children and a few motivated volunteers they offer a helping hand to people overwhelmed by over-yielding trees in their gardens or unpicked fruits growing in the streets. This limits food waste and unwanted fruits are given a second life.

It started off in 2005 when Karen was walking her dog through her local park and noticed workers preparing to do work on the area. She found that the Kitchen Garden with a history dating back to the 17th – 18th century was to be transformed into a retail outlet and car park. This news came as a shock to her and her community who actively campaigned against it to protect a green space they all enjoyed spending time in. After a 5 year saga, the council gave her the keys to revive the Kitchen Garden and set it up as a charity. She started collaborating with her current work partner, Sarah Cruz, who was running another non-profit at that time called Local Produce. They eventually set up a system where the crops and fruits yielded from the garden went back to the community.

After running the Kitchen Garden successfully for 5 years, they returned the space back to Chiswick House. Because of this experience they saw the benefits of locally grown produce and of harvesting as a community to reduce food waste. Karen, who is passionate about education, started collaborating with local schools to involve the kids in the processes of urban farming.

She asked local schools to help her map the area where there were fruit trees in the Chiswick area. They found out there were over 200 fruit trees and most of them were in privately owned gardens that belonged to young professionals living in Chiswick, who did not know how to deal with the amount of fruit a tree was yielding or simply did not have the time. Surprising for so many people to have yielding trees in their garden in West London? In the 19th century Chiswick used to be a very green area, the Mall contained tall trees along a grassy path between the main road and the river, the houses had large back gardens and existing plots along the riverside. In fact at that time, a lot of today’s Chiswick was still owned by the duke of Devonshire and most of it remained open country, until the gradual move in of industry to the area (mostly shipbuilding and breweries)[1]. So some of the trees that are in people’s gardens now remain from that time (and perhaps earlier) and some of the apple sorts found are rare or were even thought to be extinct.

Through programmes organised by Abundance, Karen and Sarah, the community and the local kids started to pick the apples and pears in neighbours’ gardens and in the streets. Kids quickly took to it and not only did they enjoy it but they started to think about eating food seasonally and the complex processes that go into getting food on your plate. Abundance organised Apple Day events for many years, with all traditional activities — from apple bobbing, juice pressing to pie making. All their proceeds go back into the running of the organisation and helps support this system of working.

Apple Day, as some of you may know from following us on social media, is on the 20th to the 21st of October (the days of our exhibition opening!) This year, Karen could not involve school kids, as the apples have been coming earlier and earlier every year. She got her first phone call about help needed with an apple tree in July! This is not the first we have heard of it either, the farmers we have been in contact with such as Philip from Lathcoats Farm, told us that this year’s harvest has indeed been very early.

With more people now knowing that there are trees available to gather fruits, Karen now offers picking equipment for anyone who wants to borrow it and pick their own fruits in the area. That way, she can focus on other projects that Abundance can get involved with. This includes putting together a huge mural depicting local landmarks for the railway bridges outside of Turnham Green tube station.

Abundance London is part of a larger network in the UK, where different counties and areas are all working together to harvest gluts of unwanted fruit. With these initiatives, children and adults can learn to look at food waste differently. They can also enjoy nature, reconnect with growth and food but also find their own community.

If you feel that there is food waste in your community, if you’ve seen apples going uneaten in neighbours’ gardens or blackberries unpicked on your local path, why not start a group yourself? Abundance are set up in a way where you can learn from existing groups and implement their work in your own way in your area. If you want to find out more about setting up your own or simply joining for one of their ‘charity scrumping’ sessions this is their national website: http://www.abundancenetwork.org.uk/about-us with Karen and Sarah’s group at www.abundancelondon.com.

Please share with us any tales you have about scrumping, fruit picking or reconnecting with green spaces in your area!

Thank you so much to Karen Liebreich for her time and insight into Abundance London.

 

[1] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1982.

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