Building community, one fruit tree at a time

“Urban fruit foraging,” it’s called.

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Some years ago, a young, hippyish couple knocked on my front door. They had noticed that I had fig trees in the yard, laden with summer fruit. If I wasn’t going to pick them all, they asked, could they harvest some figs?

Since I was about to take a trip, I said: Sure, have at ’em.

Upon my return, as I stood at the door fumbling for my keys, I looked down — and there were two jars of delicious fig jam awaiting me.

A little common neighborliness can be deeply enriching, in so many ways.

I remembered my happy fig exchange recently when I read that a fast-growing, underground fruit economy is spreading in cities across America. Well, the movement is underground, but, naturally, the fruit is above ground and — like my figs — in plain sight.

“Urban fruit foraging,” it’s called. It’s being organized spontaneously by local folks who look around their neighborhoods and see yards with trees bearing an abundance of apples, plums, oranges, pomegranates, and other delights — an abundance that largely goes un-picked.

So, why not find ways to gather, distribute, and eat this “public fruit”? Cleverly, people are doing just that.

In Oregon, for example, the Portland Fruit Tree Project is a database of 300 trees for picking. The owners sign up, then alert foragers a couple of weeks before the fruit ripens so a harvest can be scheduled. Noting that one can only eat so many apples, one of the project’s organizers says: “A fruit tree is really made for sharing with your neighborhood.”

Others share with food banks, form backyard fruit co-ops, or put city-wide maps of available fruit on websites, or — well, come up with your own idea. To help guide you, check out fallenfruit.org.

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