Forage Oakland is a project that- at its core- works to address how we eat everyday, and how everyone can benefit from viewing their neighborhood as a veritable edible map, considering what is cultivated in any given neighborhood and why, and what histories influence those choices. The gleaning of unharvested fruits; the meeting of new neighbors; the joy of the season’s first hachiya persimmon (straight from your neighbor’s backyard, no less); the gathering and redistribution of fruits that would otherwise be wasted- can be powerful and can work to create a new paradigm around how we presently think about food in our collective consciousness. Imagine gathering several friends for morning, midday, evening or weekend foraged city bicycle rides through your neighborhood. Rough maps are drawn, noting the forage-ables that can be found at each location and ‘cold calls’ are made to your neighbors asking if you can sample a fruit from their backyard tree. You have the courage to introduce yourself (despite the pervasiveness and acceptance of urban anomie) and they reward your neighborliness with a sample of Santa Rosa plums, for example. Later, when you find yourself with a surplus of Persian mulberries, you- in turn- deliver a small basket to said neighbor. With time and in this fashion, a community of people who care for and know one another is built, and rather than being the exception, this could be the norm. This is not idealistic, rather it is necessary, pragmatic, and creative– especially in times when much of the world is suffering from lack of access to healthful and satisfying fresh food. Forage Oakland is a project that works to construct a new model– and is one of many neighborhood projects that will eventually create a network of local resources that address the need and desire for neighborhoods to be more self-sustaining in meeting their food needs.
I am currently faced with a dilemma, which will most likely be just the first of these such dilemmas as this projects unfolds. Several weeks ago, I took a neighborhood walk with a friend (who’ll be called Sarah for the purpose of this story) and we toured the fruit trees in the immediate vicinity of her house. In a mere five block radius, we passed ripening hachiya persimmons, pineapple guava, walnuts, apples, passion fruit, bosc pears, lemon verbena, citrus galore, and quince. Sarah took a particular liking to the passion fruit; in their rarity, they become more prized. Sarah made a decision that she wanted to contact the owners of the house and see if they might be interested in selling the passion fruit to a local restaurant that is continuously looking for a source of passion fruit. Without consulting me, Sarah took several passion fruit in for the pastry chef to sample, and the chef fell hard for them.
I was quite put off by this approach for a number of reasons:
1) I showed Sarah the passion fruit vine because I wanted her to admire it, and I was simply trying to show her the sheer variety of fruits that could be cultivated in her immediate neighborhood. I wanted her to marvel at the little fruits, so unassuming and so easy to miss unless you lifted the leaves that shield them.
2) I intended to leave a letter for the people who live in this house asking if they’d like to exchange their surplus passion fruit for another desired fruit. I suppose I was feeling a bit proprietary of the passion fruit. More importantly, though, I envisioned the surplus passion fruit as a resource that many could enjoy or sample, not something that would be served to a precious few at a restaurant. Of course, though, this raises the question of ownership and led me to question why I was feeling proprietary of the fruit. Obviously, the fruit are not mine to claim, nor are they Sarah’s. For all either of us know, the family is waiting for the fruit to ripen and then making passion fruit ice cream.
3) Third, I found it alarming that the immediate reaction was to commodify the passion fruit.
What do you think?
This project is about viewing food as a shared pleasure and a shared resource, redistributing it to those who will enjoy it. Invite your neighbors to exchange their surplus peaches for their neighbor’s surplus blackberries. Fruit baskets are left on doorsteps: apples by the pound, Santa Rosa plums, sour cherries, persimmons, pineapple guava, and apricots. New associations are formed, and new geographies are created. The street corner where Ashby Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way meet is no longer marked by its corner store, rather it is defined by the prolific fig tree on the northeast corner. Encourage your neighbors to share their backyard bounty and barter what they don’t intend to use. Hop on your bicycle and redistribute the surplus to another neighbor, making a note of the location of the harvested bounty. An edible landscape can be formed that is interactive, a bit different every day as fruit ripens and falls and as the seasons change. The barter can translate to other areas of urban living, and can create a community of people who’d rather do it for themselves and play an active role in their consumerism. When there are plums in your neighbor’s backyard, enjoy them with your neighbor.