Reflections of a Fruit Tree Sale Coordinator

by Betty Baer

The first fruit tree sale I went to was at Rice University’s football stadium parking lot. It was one of those January days that was cool, dry and brilliantly sunny. The kind of day that makes living in Houston feel like the best kept secret. At the time, I had no idea that years later I would spend the week and days before the fruit tree sale scrutinizing weather reports and losing sleep over a possible freeze in the forecast. 

As I drove closer to the stadium, I saw long lines of people snaking back and forth. I parked my car and wondered if there could be some other event going on at Rice. All these people want to buy fruit trees? I got to the parking area and wondered how long it would take after standing in line to get to the entrance of the sale, which I couldn’t even see. I thought of myself as someone in the know, but had no idea that so many people wanted to plant fruit trees. After opening my car door and closing it, I drove away. The lines were imposing and it didn’t seem worth it. 

The next year the sale was Rice University again. I felt like a pro getting there early and purchasing a Meyer Lemon tree. It was akin to being the owner of a puppy and I planted my tree as soon as possible. I followed the directions; digging a hole the right size in a sunny spot in my backyard, carefully positioning my tree and watering it in. There was a hard freeze that year and my little tree did not survive. I neglected to read the instructions about when to plant the tree, only how. I kept this stunted tree in the ground for two years hoping it would come back to life. Growing food is magical but my magical thinking did not make my first tree survive. 

The next year I signed up with Urban Harvest volunteering to be a fruit tree seller. We were educated on the needs of the tree to which we were assigned. When the sale officially opened the early bird shoppers rushed to pick up the trees they knew could sell out early. I stayed out of the way. As the day progressed, it was fun to engage with shoppers from all walks of life and from all over town with my growing knowledge. And there were plenty of expert fruit tree sellers who could answer anything from the most basic to the more esoteric questions. There was so much I learned and so much more to learn. 

Through the years I bought blueberry bushes (didn’t work) a very productive LSU fig, a pomegranate which my husband accidently over pruned and killed and a Cara Cara orange which is pink and the most delicious orange. Who knew that orange and a mandarin orange could have such unique and different tastes.

I helped with the fruit tree sale as it moved from Rice University to University of Houston to Houston Community College to Sawyer Yards. Mind you, it was no easy task finding appropriate places to hold this sale when previous locations could no longer accommodate it. And there are the challenges of getting trees that would be best for growing in our region in a changing fruit tree supply market. But I was constantly humbled by the commitment of fruit tree enthusiasts who volunteered long hours to coordinate the sale year after year and the volunteers always showing up with a smile on their face. I am intentionally not naming all those involved because the list is too long and I’m sure to forget someone- but you know who you are if you’ve been to a fruit tree sale you know these folks too. They are awesome and I’m honored and humbled to work with all of them.

At the last in person sale February 2020 I bought a variegated pink lemonade tree.

I’ve gotten partial to variegated leaves and had my eye on this tree the year before. Between the raised beds and other fruit trees, the sunny areas in my yard are occupied. My grandchildren lost one of their grandfathers a few months before the sale. Buying a tree to honor him was important to me. I planted it in a large container and will figure out a more permanent place another time. It has held up well in the container and is a fitting memory tree.

At that last fruit tree sale, the pandemic seemed far off, if I thought of it at all. So much has changed. So much I’ve taken for granted. There is no bigger, better Urban Harvest fruit tree sale this year. But there is sharing information. Sharing our stories. Sharing my fruit harvest this fall felt especially meaningful. It gave me hope.