Foraging – Not Just For Squirrels Anymore

FallingFruit.org has a simple mission: to connect “people, food, and the natural organisms growing in our neighborhoods.”

They do this by creating and maintaining an incredible open-sourced world map pinpointing spots to forage for ‘urban edibles.’

Here’s their map. Keep clicking the spot(s) closest to you and it drills down, sometimes zooming to your very own neighborhood! You’ll find specific plants at specific locations like these I found near my house:

Falling Fruit1

Falling Fruit2

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The “W” on the listing links to Wikipedia and the “USDA” links to the … wait for it … USDA information about the fruit, vegetable or herb. There’s even an edit button to use if you go to the location and find discrepancies.

If you’re not interested in foraging, but you grow more than you can consume, there’s a mechanism for you to donate part of your bounty from your own garden. You could also add your location for the urban foragers, assuming it’s okay to have folks trooping through your yard.

Speaking of trooping through someone’s yard, Falling Fruit doesn’t come right out and say it, but if you’re unsure about the appropriateness of the fruit you’re thinking about picking, please be considerate and ask permission. You know what? Ask anyway. You’ll meet someone interesting and they’ll know you appreciate their harvest.

They do add this disclaimer:  “Harvesting food in an urban setting comes with certain practical and moral considerations. For an introduction to the ethics of urban foraging, we recommend the excellent summary on our sibling site – Portland, Oregon’s Urban Edibles.

If you’re too lazy to click, here’s what Urban Edibles says:

This project cannot exist unless every participant acts responsibly. Be mindful of the sources you pick from and submit to the database. Here is a short working list of considerations.

Asking Permission

Always ask permission before you pick no matter where the trees or bushes are located. Not everyone is alright with their neighbors picking from their sidewalk plot. However, many fruit-producing trees and herbaceous species are readily available on public land. It’s not always easy to tell which is which. Part of being a thoughtful community member is in respecting both private and public terrain. The Urban Edibles wild food source database is designed as a resource for potential harvesting locations (i.e. areas with an abundance of fallen fruit). We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing. Consistently asking permission to harvest wild foods ensures lawful conduct. It also promotes face-to-face dialog between you and your neighbors. We believe that building this kind of wild food network helps connect us to one another as well as our urban habitat. It makes our communities that much healthier!

How much do I really need?

A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad? How much can you carry? Decide before you pick. Over-harvesting a wild food source can be very counter-intuitive when the goods go bad.

Will my harvesting leave an impact?

This includes visual impact, impact for future harvesters and last but not least the impact on the particular plant you are picking from. It is imperative to pick in a balanced and selective manner. The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest! You can help a public source produce better next year by watering it or notifying the city if it needs pruning.

Consider chemical contamination

Watch out! It’s easy to forget that Portland is a major metropolitan area with a strong potential for toxicity. Engaging dialog with homeowners and park workers about the history of a site is always helpful. Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from. The Portland Parks website claims that “the vast majority of pest management practices in parks never involve the use of pesticides” (Source). However, this is not always so. A vast majority of homeowners also tend to implement domestic pesticides like Roundup as well. Needless to say, it’s always best to glean as much information from the harvesting site as you can.

Lawful Considerations

Legalities related to harvesting wild food sources are not always clear. However, the City of Portland has several laws and regulations pertaining to urban forestry practices such as Chapter 20.40 of the Portland City Code and Charter. More research is needed in this area.

 I think using Urban Edibles and Falling Fruit is a fabulous way to connect with your neighbors, your community, and what you eat so go forth and forage! Responsibly, of course.

Now … off to get me some free-range pears, onions, apples and grapes …

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