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.