The wondrous fruit harvest ritual at the Portland Fruit Tree Project. Interview with Bob Hatton by Willi Paul, Magazine

Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP) is an award-winning nonprofit organization that provides a community-based solution to a critical and growing need: Access to healthful food. Through our four unique programs, PFTP provides direct services that improve quality of life for people in Portland. Since its inception, PFTP has significantly expanded the number of harvesting events, amount of fruit harvested, and number of people served each year.

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Please enjoy my interview with Bob Hatton, PFTP Program Coordinator -

Is there a spirituality benefit in harvesting fruit for your organization and community?

Yes, I believe there can be a spirituality benefit in harvesting fruit with Portland Fruit Tree Project and for the community.
It feels good to do something that benefits the greater community, and specifically those less fortunate than oneself. Food is necessary for human life so it's a great connector and motivator. Spirituality did play a role in my personal journey to discover what kind of career I wanted to embark on.

How has the program shaped your journey as an adult? What are the key high / low lights?

The program has greatly shaped my journey as an adult. I've been working with Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP) for almost 5 years now and it feels like I have really found my niche. I had previously been on a somewhat meandering journey to discover what it was I could do to make a difference in this world - to work towards a more sustainable future. The LECL (Leadership in Ecology, Culture, and Learning) program at PSU (now the LSE program) provided a great starting point for that. Through that program I was afforded the opportunity to do use CBL (Community Based Learning) hours to engage with several non-profit and community groups in the Portland area.

While in the program, the focus of my studies was on Organic Gardening & Garden-Based Education. I knew of PFTP, having met Katy Kolker (our Execuutive Director) through one of my friends from college who was in AmeriCorps with her. Upon graduating the LECL program in 2009, there was an AmeriCorps position available with PFTP. It seemed to be the perfect fit for my passions, skills, and interests and that has proven to be the case!

Since starting with PFTP in 2009, there have been many highlights. We've increased the number of harvesting events each year, we created our Tree Care Teams program in 2010 and that program has since expanded modestly, we've expanded the Tree Care Workshop series to a year-round series and have created workshops on new topics each year. We've also created new volunteer positions to better engage the community: Orchard Stewards and Fruit Monitors.

We've started a neighborhood-based harvest coordination model and have successfully organized bike-powered harvesting events with our pilot group. All of these accomplishments are affirming for me in my journey as an adult because we've been able to continue to make innovations in our programs as we strive to always be improving our programs. This keeps the work interesting and exciting even as the major responsibilities of the position remain more or less the same.

I can't say that there are many low-lights, per se. Of course, when coordinating hundreds of volunteers each year, there are always challenges that arise. There are challenges that arise when partnering with other non-profits and government agencies as the goals of our organizations do not always perfectly align. Personally, I would say the biggest challenge I've been feeling lately is how much my job has become sitting at a desk at my computer. When I first started with PFTP I was out in the field much more. I was co-leading harvesting events, facilitating workshops, conducting site visits, etc.

I still do some of that but it is now necessary for me to train others to do these things so that I can do the work of coordinating all of the details "behind the scenes." Many hours a week spent at the computer is not the healthiest thing for one's body - and I've been feeling that lately.

Discuss how training and initiation play a part for your staff and volunteers?

Training is a huge part of our programs. We have developed efficient and thorough processes for many aspects of our work. Thus, we train new staff, interns, and volunteers on these processes (specific to their role.) For many of our lead volunteer positions, I think that the training received and the skills/knowledge received as part of the training and as part of the volunteer experience are a big reason why many of our lead volunteers choose a particular position.

I wouldn't say that there is a formal initiation for any of our staff and lead volunteers although when someone leads or co-leads their first event in the field, that could be considered an initiation of sorts.

Do you integrate PFTP with food forest projects with permaculture folks?

Our work at PFTP is certainly informed and inspired by permaculture principles. Both Katy and I have taken PDCs here in Portland. At our Sabin Community Orchard, the coordination team decided to engage in a community design charrette with local permaculturist Connie Van Dyke. Much of the design of that orchard is inspired by the food forest concept. We have also partnered with Angela Goldsmith at the Fargo Forest Garden site to help care for the fruit trees there.

There are many local permaculturists or folks inspired by permaculture that volunteer with us. Before we had to move our office, there were some local permaculture folks involved with our on-site Killingsworth Community Food Forest. Finally, the design of our Fruits of Diversity Community Orchard has also been heavily influenced by permaculture ideas. We worked with local Permaculture teacher Joe Leitch helped with the community design process and local landscape architect/permaculture enthusiast Scott Sutton transformed the community's ideas into the design on paper.

Does the Home Orchard Society promote organic fruit production?

While it is not explicit in the mission of Home Orchard Society (HOS) to only promote "organic" fruit production, the intention of most folks involved is to promote organic methods or no-spray and low-spray methods of growing fruit. The demonstration arboretum at Clackamas Community College is run using organic growing methods. This site is open to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9am - 3pm. HOS holds two big events each year - the All About Fruit show in October and the Fruit Propagation Fair in March. At both events, information is provided about which varieties are disease resistant and experts are available for consultation to help folks grow fruit that doesn't require investing in non-organic growing methods.

“Spring Pest & Disease Management” sounds pretty chemical laden?!

Ha! That's interesting that you infer from the title that chemicals are involved. At PFTP we always encourage folks to grow fruit organically. All of the work that we perform at our sites is no-spray or low-spray. If we are spraying anything it is compost tea, organic neem oil solution, or organic kaolin clay. We teach a holistic year-round tree care plan. This includes proper pruning, weeding & mulching, integrating plants that attract beneficials or repel pests, proper watering, fruit thinning, and orchard sanitation (cleaning up fallen fruit and leaves so as not to provide habitat for the pests and diseases that live on those things). The title "Spring Pest & Disease Management" was chosen as an alternative the Pest & Disease Control because you can't control the pests & diseases that could affect your tree.

Many of the pests & diseases are always around to small degrees so it is matter of trying to manage your orchard/backyard habitat so that the conditions do not arise for those pests and diseases to reach the level of infestation. Many of our tree owners have trees that are in some state of neglect. They see something that is affecting their fruit tree and they don't know what it is. We find that the language in the title "Pest & Disease Management" attracts folks who want to find out what pest or disease is affecting their tree and what to do about it.

“Harvest Leader” and “Tree Scout” sound like Boy Scout names? What youth groups do you pattern yourself after?

Although I was in the Boy Scouts when I was younger, both the Harvest Leader and Tree Scout positions were created by Katy Kolker, our Executive Director. My experiences in the Boy Scouts did strengthen my leadership skills but I wouldn't say that we pattern our programs after it.

Has not paying interns proven to be a sustainable practice?

We have been hosting interns at PFTP since June 2009. Some of these interns are paid through a college work study program. We have also had a couple that were hosted through the AmeriCorps LINKS program and received a stipend. Some interns are not paid but do receive school credit through their college program. There are also some folks who are not doing work study and are not doing the internships for credit. In short, yes, it has been a sustainable practice. We would certainly love to continue expanding the number of paid staff positions that we have but adding new staff positions also requires a large increase on the income side of the budget.

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Bob Hatton Bio –

Bob is the Program Coordinator with Portland Fruit Tree Project (PFTP.) He has been the lead coordinator for all of PFTP's Community Harvest & Fruit Tree Stewardship programs since Fall 2009. He thoroughly enjoys the opportunities his position provides to harvest fruit that would otherwise go to waste, work with lots of passionate volunteers, to continually learn about fruit tree care from all of our workshop instructors and Tree Care Team Leaders, and to share his knowledge with others.

Bob is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Home Orchard Society. Prior to this, Bob worked at the Learning Gardens Laboratory and earned his Master's degree through the LECL (Leadership in Ecology, Culture, and Learning) program at Portland State University. While in the LECL program, Bob completed the OSU Organic Gardening Certificate Program and the Permaculture Design Certificate with Toby Hemenway.

Connections –

Bob Hatton, Program Coordinator
Portland Fruit Tree Project
bob at

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