Sustainable Blog

Lemon Trees for All in San Francisco

Q&A with Dr. Isabel Wade, executive director of Just One Tree

SanFrancisco_LemonTrees_Header

A project called Just One Tree has a singular but ambitious goal: to make sure San Francisco can grow all the lemons it consumes. To do this, the community will need to produce 461 tons of lemons annually—that’s a lot of lemons! But Dr. Isabel Wade, founder and executive director of Just One Tree, thinks it’s possible. She’s put together a program to encourage residents to plant new lemon trees and register existing ones to meet the goal.

Just One Tree’s first goal is to register the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 lemon trees already growing in San Francisco before focusing on the planting of more trees to reach their goal of 12,000 trees.

The project is a great demonstration of what one city can do to become completely self-sustainable in a single food crop. Though the project has only been up and running for about a year, the project’s host, Urban Resource Systems, has been promoting self-reliance in cities worldwide since 1981.

We’ve created visual snapshot of the program below, and then we caught up with Wade to ask her a few questions about the project (scroll down for the interview).

San Francisco Lemon Tree Project

Sustainable America: Are you counting only Meyer lemon trees or all lemon trees?

Dr. Isabel Wade: All kinds can be planted, but we are promoting Meyer’s as the best suited to San Francisco.

SA: Do indoor trees count?

Dr. Wade: Yes! Balconies too.

SA: Do you have a year by which you hope to accomplish your 12,000 tree goal?

Dr. Wade: Not really, but loosely the end of the decade at the latest.

SA: What has been the most rewarding part of Just One Tree so far?

Dr. Wade: People are so enthusiastic about lemons! Many have fond feelings of a lemon tree in their yard or a relative’s yard. People also really get the concept of food self-reliance right away when presented with the goal of the project.

SA: Can you recount an unexpected challenge the organization has faced?

Dr. Wade: The citrus psyllid disease is a bit scary and could make it difficult to complete the campaign if everything is quarantined. However, we have already collaborated with our Department of the Environment to inform the city and held a workshop with all the leading experts. Also, home fruit production will be even more important if the disease spreads.

SA: What made you choose the scope of your project? Why did you chose to focus on one specific fruit?

Dr. Wade: Fruit trees are the most efficient way to produce food in a dense city. My organization [Urban Resource Systems, the host of JOT] has been promoting greater self-reliance in cities since 1981. We feel that if we can show that even the second most dense city in America could become self-sufficient in a crop, all cities will realize they can grow more food.

SA: How can people outside of San Francisco support Just One Tree?

Dr. Wade: Folks can send a link to our website to any friends in San Francisco and make sure they register or plant a tree. We are a 501(c)3 and all donations are appreciated and tax deductible, regardless of location of the donor. In this regard, they can watch for our Indiegogo campaign when we launch, hopefully in November or December, and they can encourage friends to support our efforts. Also, folks might get inspired to do a project in their hometown. There is already a lemon organization in Melbourne, Australia, and there are lots of fruit-tree promoting projects all around America.

According to Dr. Wade, in the past year Just One Tree has:

  • Registered more than 1,000 trees. They are trying to get to 1,500 registered trees before they begin promoting the planting part of the project.
  • Had one public orchard site approved on parkland. The organization is working with neighbors to plant the first 25 lemon trees.
  • Conducted outreach at community meetings and through newsletters to almost every neighborhood in the city.
  • Hosted two “skills” classes about lemon trees and use of lemons.
  • Participated in two healthy eating fairs – one at a public high school and one with city department staff.

In a changing world with more people to feed and more of those people living in cities, a concept like Just One Tree that combines urban agriculture and self-reliance seems a prescient concept for our nation’s–and indeed the world’s–cities. Sustainable America supports urban agriculture, alternative agriculture and local food production as strategies to increase food availability and decrease oil consumption, the two primary goals of our organization.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.