Free Fruit: Urban Fruit Harvesting

Since I follow such things, I have noticed a growing trend here in Los Angeles. There seems to be an increasing number of groups conducting organized fruit harvests, or fruit gleanings. Traditionally, gleaning is collecting “leftover” crops from farmers’ fields after they have already been harvested, or on fields where it’s not profitable for them to harvest and they would otherwise just be thrown out.


Those in the city would be hard pressed to find farmers’ fields close by, so they have developed their own definition of gleaning, they harvest, or glean, fruit from abandoned fruit trees, from backyard fruit trees, or fruit trees hanging over into public areas such as sidewalks, alleys, and other public rights-of-way.


Here in Los Angeles, one of the oldest and best organized of these groups is Fallen Fruit. They have created maps of publicly accessible fruit trees and they are now asking people to submit their own maps so they can cover the United States and eventually the rest of the world.


As they state on their website, “We believe fruit is a resource that should be commonly shared, like shells from the beach or mushrooms from the forest. Fallen Fruit has moved from mapping to planning fruit parks in under-utilized areas. Our goal is to get people thinking about the life and vitality of our neighborhoods and to consider how we can change the dynamic of our cities and common values.”


After starting out with just mapping public fruit areas, they have developed some other great projects including working on developing fruit “parks” throughout the region and have conducted public fruit jams or collective jam-making sessions. Their website also offers guides to creating your own fruit gleaning map.


But, the question most people have about collecting fruit from other people’s trees is whether or not it’s legal. As Fallen Fruit points out, in Los Angeles, free food is available year round and “according to the law, if a fruit tree grows on or over public property, the fruit is no longer the sole property of the owner.”


But this isn’t just an L.A. trend; there are many groups nationwide that now track or map wild or fallen fruit, and there are still others that actually go into people’s backyards to gather the fruit with the homeowner’s permission, or ask those with excess fruit to bring it to them.


These include Village Harvest in the San Francisco Bay area, a nonprofit group that conducts backyard harvesting and food preservation and also provides education on fruit tree care and harvesting, food preservation and also works with private and public orchard owners. The fruit they collect goes to charitable food organizations and agencies and in 2008, they collected nearly 122,000 pounds of fruit from local backyards and small orchards.


Another successful project is the Portland Fruit Tree Project in Portland, Oregon. The group’s mission is “To increase equal access to fresh, healthy food and foster stronger communities by empowering neighbors to share in the bounty and care of urban fruit and nut trees.” As part of this mission they offer a fruit tree registry, harvesting parties, group harvests, tree care workshops, and preservation workshops. They distribute the fruit to both volunteers and to those in need and in 2007, they harvested over 3,400 pounds of fruit.


While getting free fruit is always a great thing, it seems that the increase in the number of groups doing this is due not only to the increased demand at local food banks and other agencies as the economy has worsened, but the increased emphasis of locally grown fruits and vegetables.



Julie Botsch
Julie Botsch3 years ago


Savitri U.
Luna D5 years ago

I love what the Portland group does in letting people register their trees. Many fruit tree owners are thrilled to see the fruit used instead of wasted. And how pathetic that people would be sneaking around in the middle of the night. Surely the decent thing to do is always ask the property owner. What's wrong with people? In my experience property owners are usually quite happy to share because a tree will generally produce more than they can handle and it saves a lot of clean up. No one wants a pile of rotting fruit in their yard.

Merrily W.
Merrily W6 years ago

I like the concept but too many push the limits. I saw this on a news report where the person gleaning thought it was okay to use a ladder and have someone hold them for balance as they reached as far as they could into someone's yard to take fruit, without permission. The tree was not abandoned. From the look of it the owner had taken a lot of effort to take care of it. I feel they pushed from gleaning to steeling.

My parents neighbors have had people come in the middle of the night and strip the fruit trees in the back yard bare of all fruit. My grandmother's neighbor had a tuck pull up with ladders and strip their avocado tree of all it's fruit before the neighbors could get a hold of the owner or the police.

Gleaning is a great concept but those doing it need to be respectful of the owners who put in a lot of time and care into their trees and gardens.

@ Kathleen The stores are worried about liability. If animals get sick etc someone could try to hold them responsible. I would prefer the city/county organize a compost pick up for grocery stores and restaurants. Yes they would have to have a separate trash bin and be educated about what can go into it but it would seriously reduce what is going into landfills.

Pamela Free
Pamela Free8 years ago

The stores are just protecting their asses in this litigious society.

Pamela Free
Pamela Free8 years ago

The stores are just protecting their asses in this litigious society.

Gerardo Barriga
Gerardo Barriga8 years ago

Untill recently I was getting veggies/fruit from my local grocery store. They quit giving out fruit, but still veggies. I realy appreciated them for supplying all this for my animals and the nieghbors. They stopped, I asked the produce guys, WHY? all they told me,company policy, I don't get it, aall this stuff was being put to good use, instead of garbage. Anyone out there know of ways to get them to provide veggies???

John M.
Theresa M8 years ago

We call up property management companies for a list of empty or abandoned homes that need their fruit trees stripped. We always leave some fruit behind for wildlife. We collected over 500 pounds of fruit for our giant tortoises and iguanas.

Judi G.
Judith G8 years ago

As you all say, it's a great idea and more people out to do it. Also, as I wrote, just make sure you are taking only public fruit, or simply ask for fruit, most people are more than happy to help.

After the comments about the food waste, it makes me think we should start some kind of campaign to encourage businesses to save their waste and reward them by getting people to shop there if they make a commitment. We have a program in my area where a group has volunteers that goes and collects food from stores and restaurants, not always produce, usually processed stuff like snacks, cookies, cakes. Hmm, I will explore more, gives me food for thought!

Patti Reinecke
Patrice Reinecke8 years ago

Great idea for so many reasons! Please post updates of locations as the list grows!

Chris H.
Past Member 8 years ago

A positive development - My opinion of LA just went up a couple of ticks. :)