You can’t beat the seasonal selections at a farmers market. But you can, possibly, augment those yummy goodies with free, local fruits. A website mapping urban fruit trees free for the forage savvy can help.
Strolling through Silverlake, a lush neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles, you’re bound to bump into a packed, trendy coffee shop… or five. There are scores of adorable boutiques that look like you just stepped into a Wes Anderson movie, or Etsy. Vegan cafés are always packed, as are bike shops and the reservoir’s walking trail. Once you move into the residential streets, though, the landscape changes. Suddenly it feels like you’re in forest. Birds chirp all day. Skunks and coyotes are regular streetwalkers. Tall trees and clumps of bamboo line many of the steep hills, and so do fruit trees. There are lemons, grapefruit, peaches, loquats, avocados—and even bananas!—just to name a few. There are also front lawns dripping with cherry tomatoes, zucchini and kale. Often, there are more fruits on a tree than any family can eat. Some of the trees are on public property.
Beyond neighborhoods like Silverlake where California weather makes it easy to grow fruit year round, there’s Seattle, which is building a massive urban “food forest” just a few miles from downtown. It’s going to be full of edible fruits free for anyone who wanders into the park to forage. And, chances are, you can find some pretty yummy treats in your neck of the woods, too—wherever that may be—using the website Falling Fruit.
image: screen shot of map of Silverlake, CA
Created by Colorado residents Ethan Welty and Caleb Philips, the duo have cataloged more than half a million urban fruit trees from more than two-dozen cities into their database, and hope to keep adding more.
While not everything is as recognizable as what you’d get at your supermarket, Welty and Philips referenced municipal planning data and worked with experienced local foragers in identifying all qualifying fruit trees. But the website is also full of familiar favorites, according to TheAtlanticCities.com, “over 5,000 examples of cherry, pear and apple trees, not to mention olives (4,442), plums (1,424) and almonds (343). And these figures, by and large, account for only a handful of U.S. and Canadian cities.”
Accustomed to getting our food from supermarkets, or even farmers markets, plucking free goodies from fruit trees can feel a bit like vandalism. We wonder, is it safe to eat? Getting past our own hang-ups about eating fallen (or almost fallen) fruit from neighborhood tress is certainly something worthy of working on as fruit can often be the most expensive produce items. Learning to forage is extremely sustainable, and keeps perfectly good food from going to waste. Let’s eat to that.
Check out the map in your area at FallingFruit.com.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger