Monday, June 7, 2010

Fruit City and the Joys of Foraging

Why settle for fruit grown in Brazil or Chile when you can walk down the block and pick your own ripe darling?  Recently, I've stumbled onto a couple of delightful websites dedicated to mapping or networking all of the fruit grown in cities.  These sites focus on fruit grown in public spaces, or on private lots where the owners don't want the excess fruit.  My favorite is Fruit City (  Fruit City provides a "living and growing map" of all the fruit tree and vines in public spaces in London. The site has an interactive map that provides directions to the closest apple, pear, or even hardy kiwi growing in London's public spaces.  If you discover a new foragable jewel, then users can update the map themselves.

Another site, City Fruit ( is a developing non-profit that works with Seattle neighborhoods to help residential tree owners grow and harvest fruit and share what they don't need. Since July 2009, City Fruit has harvested over 4800 pounds of pears, plums, apples, and grapes from 50 home and donated them to food banks, senior housing, and daycare centers.  The video below is one of their advertisements.

[Or click the link here if the video is not displaying for you.]

Of course, as an amateur forager myself, the thought of mapping and alerting the rest of the world to my treasured hotspots spoils some of the joy of discovering these trees in the first place.  It's bad enough to compete with the jays and starlings for the pound of two of delicious serviceberries I harvest every June.  Now I have to share with a bunch of foraging newbies?  What's worse, Fruit City even suggests foraging paraphernalia like the fruit collecting basket-back, a brilliant yet ridiculous contraption that provides consumer apparel for urban foragers. 

In my less stingy moments, I realize that there's probably enough for everyone.  I truly think more people should engage with the primal joys of discovering, harvesting, and eating wild foods.  Even my friends who are totally disinterested in nature ask a dozen questions when they see me swipe a handful of obscure berries from a tree and pop them in my mouth.  Their interest signals more than mere curiosity; it is an expression of a deeper desire, a primal urge to engage in the world's oldest occupation. 

For most of human history, we have relied on wild foods to feed us.  Of course, it's not practical for us to rely solely on wild foods; however, the act of foraging reminds us that we are not fed by the supermarket.  Foraging connects us to the sun, the soil, and the seasons. When we forage, we no longer just observe nature--as one might in a National Park--but we participate in the event of nature.  To forage is to return to our first role as ecological beings, and understand our connection with the splendid mosaic of life. 

So if you're a homeowner, plant a fruiting tree or vine.  If you're a designer or landscape architect, consider adding fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines to public spaces.  Nothing grounds you in the cycles of nature like harvesting your own food.  It is the single most human engagment I know.

SNEAK PEAK: In the next upcoming blog, I feature a foragable fruit and gorgeous native plant whose fruit has the single highest antioxidant levels of any measured plant to date.  It is actually been shown to inhibit weight gain.  Stop by the site later this week to find out.


  1. You've convinced me. I'm going to hop on my bike and tool on down to where I know there used to be a lot of blackberry bushes. I hope some are still there. And if they are, when the berries are ripe, I'm going to try to make jam. I'll send you a jar if this works. -- Gale M.

  2. Yay foraging. Don't do it so much myself, though your post makes it sound like a good idea.

    I've gotten interested lately in native edibles--what's good to eat that didn't come from Europe? Am planning to put in some Amelanchier stolonifera this fall as a food production experiment.

    Would the berry in your sneak peek be Aronia or perhaps elderberry, by any chance?

  3. Serviceberries are delicious. I picked them from the tree in my back yard.


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