The Chronicles of The Fruit Tree Sale (Part TWO)

Bob Randall, Ph.DThe Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale is one of those amazing human events. For the last two decades, hundreds of people from all over have come to buy great fruit plants.  They invest in a satisfying, delicious, and productive future while more than 100 volunteers help them choose from thousands of fruit trees.  

It’s too bad then that there won’t be a sale this year.  Having a health promoting mass sales event during a pandemic would defeat one of the sale’s core purposes, and because of the reliance on volunteers, would probably be impossible.  So, this year we will all need to miss what might be one of the largest one-day fruit tree sales on the planet.                                                                                                                                                        – Bob Randall, Ph.D

The Urban Harvest Sales

There were no Fruit Tree Sales in central Houston in the 1990s because Master Gardeners were centered in far west and far southeast Harris County.  We founded Urban Harvest in 1994 partly because there was so little urban horticultural and land education inside the Beltway.  By 2000 the organization was strong enough to think about sponsoring a fruit tree sale.  TreeSearch’s Bill Rohde delivered a pitch to our Board and several of them agreed to work on it.  Hopes were high that we would make enough money from the sale to buy projection equipment for permaculture and other Urban Harvest classes.  Three of the Board in particular created the first one at a small lot on the corner of Kane and Silver just to the east of Urban Harvest’s then offices.  Board member Brad Hendricks was a City of Houston Urban Forester and board member Andy Richker was a permaculture advocate.  Together they guarded the trees overnight at the first sale.  Board Member Ray Sher used his extraordinary organizational and management skills to organize a team of volunteers and staff to sell the trees and handle money.  And Board Member and Founding Board President Suzy Fischer used her landscape design skills to create a plan for the space that was functional and user friendly.  Suzy has done this every year for two decades using skill, flexibility, and a remarkable ability to balance a lot of conflicting requirements for a good layout.

The sale was a resounding success.  Trees were sold. Bill Rohde taught a class on the trees. People improved their diets and landscapes.  We sold out quickly.  And the only problem was there were too many people for the small lot.  Most significantly, while doing something useful and important we made money as did Tree Search. So, sales in subsequent years could continue.

Growth and Expansion

In following years, we moved the sale to the pocket park to the west of our building, then to a church lot in the Memorial area, then to Rice Stadium, then to the University of Houston stadium annex, then to HCC West Loop, then back to Rice, then in recent years Sawyer Yards.  For many years, sales expanded each year from the first year’s $18K until they reached a plateau of about $150,000 gross in a sale that was largely over in 3 hours.  The sale has made it through cold driving rain on one occasion and a frigid 26˚F day another time.

For the first decade, Ray Sher organized the whole show—gradually developing coordinators and teams assigned to particular functions.  He had enormous help from Gary Edmondson.  More than any other person of the hundreds, Ray deserves the credit for the Urban Harvest sale.  He talks about this a bit online in what I think is an understatement of his key role. 

I took over from Ray the large volunteer coordination function in 2008 and became the second overall coordinator in 2010. After 2013, overall responsibility for the sale became more of a group effort, but the volunteer basis of the sales has continued as beneficiaries of Urban Harvest programs have continued to help each year. Some have unloaded trees from trucks for two decades and some have sold the same trees for nearly this long. Brian Herod, Betty Baer, Bill Arendt, Angela Chandler, and Brazos Citrus Nursery have played major leadership roles in recent years.

21st Annual Fruit Tree Festival 2021 (VIRTUAL EVENT)

So, because of the effects of covid-19 there will be no sale this year.  HOWEVER, Urban Harvest is hosting a virtual Fruit Tree Festival Celebration event where you can join to learn how to grow, care for, and celebrate fruit trees in Houston. If you already have trees, consider taking my virtual Fruit Pruning and Training Class offered starting in January. Visit the Urban Harvest Houston Youtube Channel to learn more about fruit trees and to hear from folks in their backyards and community gardens share about their fruit trees.  Be sure to check Urban Harvest’s website next December about the 2022 sale.