Serious Green: Making The Most of Your Backyard Haul

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Pictures from NeighborhoodFruit.com

If "organic" was the conscientious eater's buzzword five years ago, "local" is the buzzword of today. From an environmental standpoint, the logic is simple: The farther a head of broccoli travels from the farm to your steamer, the more energy is consumed in the process.

In the meantime, the food around us often goes to waste. Think of how many trees in parks and backyards go unpicked--their fruit enjoyed by no one but the birds--while we pay dollars per pound for apples flown in from all corners of the globe.

One new website, sensing this inefficiency, aims to connect people with locally available food. Neighborhood Fruit will serve as a forum for members to register their own fruit trees, search their neighbor's supplies, and (for a small fee) pick up the surplus from others' backyards. There's also a preliminary map of public fruit trees for anyone to visit and pick.

Though Neighborhood Fruit is still in its beta phase, open only for registration, it's a great example of how grassroots efforts can help us all make the most of the food around us. There's plenty you can do right now to reap the fruits of your own local gardens, after the jump.

Talk to your neighbors. Anyone with more than a few fecund trees knows that, for a few weeks each year, they'll have more fruit than they know what to do with. So set up an exchange--you get two bags of your friend's peaches in July, and she'll get a cut of your apple harvest in October.

Look for opportunity. Does your office have a few neglected orange trees out front? Volunteer to pick them once a week and set up a snack room fruit bowl.

Cook, freeze, and preserve. Since most trees yield a ton of fruit at once, you have a limited window of opportunity--so draw up a game plan. Apples may spoil, but a parbaked apple pie will keep in the freezer for months. Same with zucchini bread, tomato sauce--you name it. Nothing compares to fresh produce, but it's better to have those raspberries chilling in your freezer than rotting on the bush.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started. How are you making the most of the produce around you?