It’s a perennial problem for the organic, locally-grown fruit loving flaneur: juicy purple plums hanging over the sidewalk, shiny red apples practically dropping into your hands, apricots sweating juice on bended boughs…on someone else’s property. Should you let it fall to the ground to rot, or enter it into your own personal food supply chain?
On the one hand, we’re respectful neighbors who wouldn’t think of poaching peaches: it’s stealing! But on the other hand, with the hunger in the world, the California drought pushing up produce prices, and the specter of our mothers’ Depression-forged admonishment not to waste perfectly good food, how can you just let it go to waste?
I’m not here to discuss the legalities of it. Yes, technically you don’t own the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street, and perhaps not the things that grow on it. I’m fairly certain you don’t own any fruit that overhangs publicly owned property. But I kind of don’t care one way or the other, because I aspire to live and behave well, whether or not its legal or illegal.
So here are two ideas to dispel the dilemma:
First, if you own a fruit tree, raspberry bush, tomato plant or other edible that is arms reach from the sidewalk, and you don’t mind if people help themselves, let them know! Hang a sign that spells it out. “Help yourself!” “Help yourself, but only one per visit (no harvesting, please)!” Whatever you see fit, but please don’t leave people guessing.
Second, if you’re a hungry grazer in doubt, don’t be shy about ringing a doorbell or knocking to find out. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? They’ll say no, and you’ll walk on. What’s the best that will happen? They may give you a bag to help you carry home your harvest.
For a number of years, I’ve grown tomato plants next to my sidewalk, and posted “Please snack!” sign. Unfortunately, my travel this year precluded me from getting tomatoes in in time, but I’ve got an apple tree that will be up for offer in season. (Unfortunately, I also didn’t get back early enough to protect from apple maggots, so the bounty may be limited to the forgiving forager.)
And if you’re wondering what all is out there, the folks at Falling Fruit have constructed a map of publicly accessible fruit trees around the world, including thousands in Seattle. I was surprised to see that my little Braeburn tree was on the map already (I edited it to let the world know the snack bar is open.)
It’s been suggested that Wallyhood publish a ready-for-printing sign people can hang. I lack the design chops for that, but would happily feature it if someone else has it in them.[Updated] Also, I forgot to mention the wonderful City Fruit, a group that organizes folks to harvest extra fruit from homeowners’ trees for donation to local food banks, as well spearheading other efforts to encourage urban agriculture.