"I don't eat anything I can't identify," said Kate Ayres.
Those are certainly words to live by, given that Kate, the Portland ReStore's new assistant manager, considers community foraging one of her favorite pastimes. You may spot her on the street as she stops to pick up apples, pears, nettles, figs, nuts and blackberries from public areas and from private property--when permitted.
"I'm amazed at how much abundance is all around us that people don't take advantage of...And honestly, that's the kind of thing I see here," she said, referring to The ReStore. "We're dealing with the leftovers; we're dealing with the gleaning of things. And there's so much worth and abundance just in the leftovers that people are dropping off."
Before joining the ReStore team, Kate worked at the Hillsboro public library for nearly nine years. She started off at the reference desk, then took on development of the Library of Things, beginnning with cake pans.
"Yeah, cake pans, because if you think about it, really you buy a fancy cake pan, you probably use it two or three times maybe, and then you store it," Kate explained.
In her quest to discover what works best in other states, Kate visited similar libraries in Sacramento and Baltimore, then implemented the most workable ideas at the Hillsboro Library of Things. She said soon they were checking out microscopes, telescopes, electronics kits, robots for kids, cookware, stud finders, home energy meters, a giant cotton candy maker, and the list went on to include several hundred items, all said.
"The idea was, you know, libraries are changing. They are reinventing themselves because you can get any information you want off of Google or YouTube," she said. "So [libraries are] becoming more community centers and getting people the things they need to do the job, not just the knowledge."
Kate said that although she loves books, it was really the community sharing and reuse aspect that excited her most...and it's what eventually led her to The ReStore.
"I come from libraries. It's like order, ok? It's super dorky, but I love cleaning and organizing," she admitted. "Plus I couldn't sit still. I needed to get up, and I love physical work." (Man, oh man, is she in the right place!)
At the Portland ReStore, Kate works closely with our volunteers - those sharing their skills, those in job-training programs, those doing court-mandated community service, and of course, Habitat homeowner families working on their 500 sweat equity hours. She makes sure all our volunteers are engaged and productive, but also that they know just how grateful we are to have their help.
She also digs the ReStore’s super fast pace and seeing all the different items coming in from donors, and then quickly going out the door with our shoppers.
"It's so fun to see what people want and need," Kate said. "Like there were three big old folding tables, and I thought, 'Who's going to want these?' And then a woman came in and said. 'This is perfect for my son's graduation party!' --I love seeing people go home happy with big stuff knowing that it's getting reused. I'm amazed at what we'll put out on the floor, and I'll think, 'I don't know if those are ever going to sell.' Then it's perfect for somebody."
MORE ABOUT KATE:
- She's an avid bike commuter ("I'm a lapsed bicycle racer. I raced cyclocross for several years.")
- Kate and her husband, John, like to garden, usually at a friend’s house.
- She earned a BS in Liberal Studies at PSU ("I call it my curiosity degree!")
- Kate once danced in the aisles with a ReStore shopper ("There was a good song on...He asked me if I danced, and I said, ‘You bet! Let's rock it out for a few minutes!'")
KATE'S FORAGING TIPS:
- "Start looking at all the plants around you, it's easy to pass it by. People plant all sorts of trees in parking lots."
- Look for fig, cherry and pear trees in vacant lots and in parks and along roads.
- Seasonal finds: Start looking for apples and pears, hazelnuts and filberts. "I just pick up the windfall, or go ask the homeowner."
- Kate makes use of surplus by pickling and dehydrating produce. (She also makes her own sauerkraut and kombucha.)
- Check out the Portland Fruit Tree Project's harvest parties where a portion of the crop goes to low income families, the harvester and the homeowner.