A plump purple plum hangs heavily from a tree’s branch. The ground below is littered with more, their juices oozing onto the sidewalk.
The fruit is ripe, but is it free for the taking?
It was a question Claudia Sampson and Tee King, two friends from Bellingham, often found themselves asking. So many local yards seem to be overflowing with produce, much of it going unpicked, uneaten. And yet there are many hungry people in their community.
“It just came to us that there could be a way to identify the trees, so everyone who was homeless could just know to pick from the harvest,” Sampson said.
Since there’s no universal symbol to indicate the homegrown fruits and veggies are up for grabs, King and Sampson set out to create one.
With the help of a service learning group from Western Washington University, King and Sampson sewed “ribbons” made from castoff fabric donated by the Re-Store. Nurseries in the Bellingham area agreed to distribute the ribbons for free to people who wish to put them in their yards. That way, others will know they can take what they want.
“When people ask, we say it should be visible from the street,” Sampson said.
On Sept. 8, Grandparents’ Day, six Bellingham-area nurseries began handing out Grandma’s Ribbons. King and Sampson are also spreading the word via a Grandma’s Ribbons Facebook page, and The Bellingham Herald published a story on the program. Food banks and shelters are also distributing information about the practice to their clients.
Sampson said the idea isn’t new.
“The food bank actually thought about doing this and they thought about liability issues,” of people going onto private property. “But you know what? These are our neighbors, this is our community. The food is going to waste.”
Sampson said Grandma’s Ribbons has been catching on. Driving around town, she’s already spotted some of the ribbons in trees. She hopes other communities will replicate the idea.
“I would love to see this nationwide,” Sampson said. “We spent a lot of time creating the ribbons we have here, which are really pretty, but it could be any type of multicolored fabric.”
Other organizations, such as City Fruit in Seattle, collect homegrown produce and deliver it to food banks. Sampson sees Grandma’s Ribbons as a complement to this approach, with the added benefit that it encourages people to get to know their neighbors in need.
“I think it’s a really easy, simple thing that could spread easily and help a lot of people,” Sampson said. “It’s one step closer to Eden.”