Richmond residents shopping at the farmers market for fresh produce Saturday snapped up 1,000 free organically grown olive trees alongside their bags of fruits and vegetables.
The giveaway was a collaboration between McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma and the environmental group Self-Sustaining Communities.
“We’re not only trying to change the scenery of Richmond by having more trees but also change people’s internal lifestyles,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “Gardens are fabulous places for people to get to know each other and for the community to bond.”
McLaughlin also said that she hoped the move would encourage people to be more health-conscious and consume less junk food and sweet drinks.
While volunteers had planned to begin giving out the trees at 1 p.m., shoppers began asking if they could have one as they noticed the trees being unloaded from a truck by the roadside.
“I’m going to get a tree,” Darlene Farr said. “I’ve never had a tree. I’m so excited.”
Farr said she intends to place her tree on the balcony in her apartment and that she would be getting her family members involved in caring for it. Recipients were all given care instruction cards detailing how often the tree needed to be watered and how much sunlight it needed.
Some shoppers asked for small trees, as they were easier to carry, while others wanted larger ones that already had small green olives growing.
Kim Huhta said she felt that bringing home a tree would help Richmond residents “green their lifestyles.”
“We’re raising awareness and letting people not only own it but gain the skills to do it,” she said. “This is a community with challenges but if everyone plays a little part, we can move forward.”
Huhta, a teacher at the National Institute of Art and Disabilities was on a field trip to the weekly farmers’ market with some of her students when they saw the pots of trees in the parking lot.
Samantha Dorsey, a nursery and vineyard manager at McEvoy Ranch, said that the trees were low-maintenance as they thrived well in dry weather.
For the trees to reach as many Richmond residents as possible, those who wanted more than one were told to return later in the afternoon to see if there were extras.
Linda Schneider, the founder of Self-Sustaining Communities, said that the group has been giving away trees for several years. In previous years, the group has given out plum, nectarine, apricot, apple, cherry and pomegranate trees.
It will take several years before the olive trees mature and until then, residents will have to ensure the trees receive enough sunlight to bloom and bear fruit. Schneider says she is working with urban farm mechanic Andy Dale to bring an industrial olive press to Richmond so the fruits can be made into oil.
“People usually don’t know what to do with the fruit but it has to be pressed on the same day it is plucked — if not they will begin to go bad,” said Dale, whose family farm makes seed and nut oil.
Dale bought the $1,600 olive oil press a while ago but said it was too good to keep to himself and he decided to share it. He added that it will take up to seven years for some of the trees to reach maturity, giving him time to find a way to relocate the press, which is currently in West Berkeley.
Of those who brought home a tree or two, 700 also signed up to be informed of future free-tree giveaways and other environment-related events.
“We want to create relationships and bring the community closer together through meaningful engagement with the greening of Richmond,” Schneider said.