The New Hunter Gatherers: Urban Foragers


My heart was nearly broken last summer when I noticed that a family member’s plum tree was so heavily laden with fruit that hundreds of beautiful plums were rotting on the ground. I decided to harvest the entire tree. Since one person can only make so much jam and I knew most of my friends were too busy to take on a plum project like this, I started surfing the internets to see if there was some way I could unload a ton of gorgeous, perfectly ripe Santa Rosa plums.

That’s when I found Forage Oakland – a site run by a woman who has mapped publicly accessible trees all over my city. She always asks permission before harvesting and she harvests everything on her bicycle and redistributes the fruit. I can’t think of a greener and more socially just idea. I met her when she came to get the plums I’d harvested, which ended up at a giant Eat In organized by Slow Food Nation, enjoyed by all.

Turns out that this urban foraging thing is a bit of a movement. There are groups springing up all over the country – not to be confused with Freegans – a philosophy I support in principal, though you’ll never catch me dumpster diving. I prefer the idea of waste diversion before it hits the dumpster. Portland, Oregon has a network, Santa Fe has a map, LA has Fallen Fruit, San Francisco has a wild foraged food CSA.

Lest you think urban foraging is just for those of us on the balmy West Coast, Chicago has Nance Klehm. And Canada has The Clever Mom.

Anybody can do it. What a great way to get to know your neighbors, build community, start a bartering circle, feed the homeless, or simply avoid the waste of fallen fruit.

Though it’s winter here in Northern California, there are still plenty of laden grapefruit, orange, and Meyer Lemon trees full of lovely fruits. Watch for Friday’s recipe using Meyer lemons and in the meantime, leave a comment on any urban foraging projects in your area.

Image: bentza

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.