Adopt a Tree, Help a Farm - Modern Farmer

Adopt a Tree, Help a Farm

You can adopt a fruit tree for a growing season -- but can you handle 300 to 500 pounds of fruit?

A maple tree. / Courtesy Tonewood Maple.

A second-generation farmer, Masumoto wants to be sure that the adopters who sign up to harvest the fruit from the certified organic Elberta peach or Le Grand nectarine trees in his Del Ray, California, orchard are serious about their commitment.

“A mature peach tree can produce 300 to 500 pounds of fruit and adopters need to harvest all of it,” he explains. “We want [adopters] who are willing to make a commitment.”

Vasseur Sugarhouse. / Courtesy Tonewood Maple.

Vasseur sugarhouse / Courtesy Tonewood Maple.

Masumoto Family Farm launched its Adopt-A-Tree program in 2004. On the 80-acre orchard, 50 trees are set aside for the adoption program. In exchange for a $600 annual fee, adopters are sent regular updates about their tree; when the peaches or nectarines are ripe, adopters come to the farm and pick all of its fruit.

Adopt-a-Tree programs are niche offerings that are gaining favor with farmers. It’s possible to adopt fruit trees, maples, olives and even cacao trees; the fees help offset operational costs and an early season commitment ensures farmers have a market for their harvest.

In Vermont, an adopt-a-tree program launched in 2012 is helping maple sugar makers preserve a local tradition.

The fees help offset operational costs and an early season commitment ensures farmers have a market for their harvest.

Dori Ross created an agency, Tonewood Maple, that partners with Vasseur Family Farm and Hartschorn Sugarbush to coordinate the adoptions of maple trees on their farms.

“These are multigenerational farms where sugaring is a labor of love,” she explains. “Climate change is affecting these sugar-makers and unless we do something creative to raise awareness and help support the farms, the history and culture of sugaring will be lost.”

The farmers weren’t interested in overseeing the program but were eager to have a new market for their maple sugar and syrup.

Tonewood Maple collects a $120 adoption fee and sends along bottles of artisan maple syrup, maple sugar and maple wafers to adopters along with a personalized certificate and photo of the adopted tree. They include a booklet that describes the process of sugaring, various syrup grades and challenges maple farmers face.

Since the program started, adoptions have doubled each year and Tonewood Maple counts a rock star, a Hollywood celeb and a European prince among its dedicated adopters (you’ll have to guess which ones).

“It’s a fun way to support a livelihood and an age-old sustainable product,” Ross says.

Sugarmakers Paul & Dave Hartshorn. / Courtesy Tonewood Maple.

Over the last decade, the adopt-a-tree program at Masumoto Family Farm has become so popular that there is a waiting list to participate (and the farm declines applications from adopters that don’t seem serious about the commitment).

It’s different from a u-pick operation because the commitment requires adopters to harvest all of the fruit on their tree, not just pick a few pecks. A bountiful harvest is turned into pies, cobblers, jams and salsas, helping adopters feel connected to the farm long after peach season ends.

“We never wanted to be a theme park of peaches,” Masumoto explains. “We want to connect people with their food — the best way to do that is to have people come to the farm and pick peaches.”

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