Free food is growing on our city streets! I went out on a forage walk for the first time this week, and it was truly amazing how many useful and edible plants seem to be offering their abundance.
Over the last couple of months I’ve had a few conversations with Christine from Blue Ridge Permaculture Network, Sarah from C’ville Foodscapes, Matt from The Bridge PAI, and assorted other friends about how to encourage urban permaculture and edible plantings in the city. One of the ideas that came up was to begin mapping urban edibles that already exist.
So we decided to get together and try it out! There are (at least) two online platforms available, NeighborhoodFruit.com and FallingFruit.org. Neighborhood Fruit also has a mobile app, Find Fruit. A few of us met at Jenny’s house in Belmont and went for a walk.
First stop was a huge mulberry tree overhanging and dropping its fruit all over the sidewalk just a block from where we started. We all stuffed our mouths and got a little juice-spotted before we ran out of low-hanging fruit.
Next we meandered into the Belmont Lofts parking lot in search of some rumored serviceberries (also called Juneberries). Along the way, we spotted mulberry, ginko, mimosa, black locust, fig, burdock, garlic mustard, and wild grapes. We used the Leafsnap app to investigate a few shrubs. Finally we rounded a corner and there they were: about a dozen large Juneberry trees covered with fruit.
There was a lot of fruit on the ground, so we figured we wouldn’t be taking food from the Belmont Lofts’ residents if we went ahead and helped ourselves to a snack. If you live there, now you know: those berries are YUMMY.
During & after the walk we talked about the pros & cons of online mapping. Adding public plantings to one of the online maps would definitely help new foragers find a place to start. Some folks said that sharing info by word-of-mouth can be a fun aspect of foraging, and they weren’t sure that would translate well to an online map. We talked about using MeetUp as a way to add social interaction and help form new foraging friendships. We also wanted to see forage mapping info made accessible offline – say, on posters at the neighborhood school, or in a sidewalk mural at the park.
Another dilemma was whether it’s OK to map fruit that’s growing on private property. General consensus was, it’s only appropriate if the fruit is overhanging the street and obviously going to waste – and it’s important to make a note on the map that the location is on private property. On the flip side, Neighborhood Fruit includes the very awesome option to register fruit that you’re willing to share. It would be truly fantastic for folks all over the city to plant an edible bush or tree near the street, and invite the neighbors to harvest!
We’re planning to organize some more social forage walks this summer. If you’re interested, please get in touch! You can reach me at annmarie (dot) hohenberger (at) gmail (dot) com. At this point it’s definitely an informal, bring-your-own-knowledge type of thing. The library has some foraging books; search the catalog for “wild food.” If you want a good recommendation (though it’s not a library book…yet), two people showed up for this week’s walk with copies of The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer.