Q and A with Di Celliers

Di Celliers founded Community Fruit Harvesting when she realised there was so much fruit going to waste and it could go to a better home – to those in need. Di and her team won the Mitre 10 Community of the Year Award as part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards in February this year. We caught up with her about how she got the initiative going, how people can get involved, and her pro tips for growing fruit.


Why did you start Community Fruit Harvesting?

I was in the process of starting up a community garden and was gathering ideas for how this could work. One day I was driving along and saw all the trees lined up in our neighbourhood. It then hit me that there’s so much fruit and it doesn’t look like it’s all being used. So at this point I started investigating and my suspicions turned out to be true: there’s a lot of excess fruit that can be put to better use. So that’s where this all started.

How did you get it up and running?

I started researching how communities around the world deal with excess fruit and got a few ideas. Then I began discussing a concept with a few people and they were enthusiastic about the idea. So, rather blindly, I set up a group and didn’t think I could go too wrong! One of the earliest steps I took was to contact the North Shore Times to help get the word out and they did, which I’m grateful for. It took off immediately after this and I was quite overwhelmed by the response. We now have over 300 volunteers around Auckland alone, including 70 preserve makers and 10 co-ordinators.

What motivates you?

I love helping others. It’s all about the community aspect and being able to share something with people who otherwise wouldn’t have it. I also love the fact that we provide a way for people to serve and to have an impact in their community. That really keeps me going.

Where are you located?

We have a strong presence across Auckland. I’m located in Browns Bay and our roots are on the North Shore but we’ve got volunteers everywhere. It’s also been great to see other regions and towns up and down the country get on board, and I’ve had many people contact me saying they want to start something in their home town. So we’ve now got groups all over, including places like Taihape, Wanaka, Gisborne and Dunedin.

How can people get involved?

The best way would be to email us at [email protected]. We’re after all kinds of volunteers and would love to hear from you, whether you want to pick fruit, make preserves, or donate jars. As we grow there’s also an increasing amount of administration required, so any help in this area would also be much appreciated!

You can also go to our website, www.pickfruit.co.nz and our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pickfruit.

What’s the most common fruit you deal with?

I’d definitely have to say grapefruit. Auckland’s an ideal climate for citrus, and grapefruit is a bit of an underrated fruit – a lot of people don’t like it! But we gladly take it and turn it into marmalade.

What’s your favourite fruit?

I’ve got two favourites: queen peaches and figs.

What’s your own garden like at home?

Between my day job, Community Fruit Harvesting, and looking after a family I don’t get too many spare hours out in the garden, but I do what I can! Every available spot in the backyard has got something edible growing, whether it’s chilli, capsicum, berries, figs or peaches.

Have you got any pro tips for growing fruit?

I’d just emphasise how important pruning is. It’s something us gardeners will sometimes overlook but it does make a huge difference. I prune my citrus trees at home pretty heavily and each year they produce a massive crop.

What’s your favourite gardening activity?

I love it all, really. I just love watching things grow and get a kick out of seeing a seed turn into something that bears fruit. I never tire of the delight.