Urban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.
Los Angeles has a dearth of publicly owned fruit trees, but who owns the fruit they produce? The three activists behind Fallen Fruit dare to ask, “Is this my banana?” By their estimate, 22 different crops can be harvested from public land trees in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles alone. Among these are citrus fruits, quava, walnuts and even prickly pear cactus pads, which can be turned into the Mexican delicacy, nopalitos. Their mission is to encourage city planners and officials to plant only fruit trees as part of municipal landscaping. Public funds and worker hours go into maintaining municipal land, so why not have these plants also produce edible harvest? Fallen Fruit also organizes fruit harvesting events, usually at night and usually in plastic lab coats for effect.
A less political example is the Fruit Tree Project of Vancouver – a community initiative that connects residents who have fruit trees on their property with soup kitchens and other community organizations that help eradicate hunger. The group also hosts canning workshops in an effort to encourage local eating during the winter months. The movement has an additional benefit: it is sponsored by Nelson Bear Aware, an organization that tries to eliminate human-bear conflict. It turns out, the spoiled fruit from urban fruit trees has been attracting bears for decades, exposing them to the possibility of being shot or run over.
The benefits of urban fruit gleaning are catching on in other places, too. Major cities like Portland and Seattle are home to new harvesting collectives and major suburbs like Hamilton, Ontario are also getting in on the action. Unfortunately, there is not yet a database of urban fruit harvesting collectives, but it would be easy to google. Of course, better yet, start a harvesting effort of your own. Lure promises of access from neighborly fruit tree owners by offering to pay them back in homemade preserves. Collect neighbors and friends once a month to pick trees that grow on public property. Or why not take a page from the, begoggled Fallen Fruit fellows? Lobby local politicians to include fruit tree planters in their zone plans. Here is an opportunity to foster community spirit, minimize hunger and encourage local eating all at the same time.
(Photo from Fallen Fruit)