Fifteen months ago, after spending more than two years creating micro neighborhood maps detailing the edibles in my various North Oakland neighborhoods, I formally embarked on attempting to share what I’d learned over my time harvesting backyard fruit in North Oakland and South Berkeley. As a transplant to this area, I believe I will never stop being completely in awe of the prolific bounty of fruit that can be found in backyards in Oakland, and I will also always be fascinated by fruit tree owners’ relationship with the trees they find growing in the front and backyards. These trees might have been planted years ago and the original planters may have long ago moved on, leaving the tree they planted as a monument to an era when we planted fruit trees out of necessity and nostalgia. Now, a generation later, there is the totem that- sadly- may be forgotten every late summer, and rather than longing for the sweet black mission figs of late summer, we may see them as a curse, a nuisance, or a burden. This is a result of our lives becoming so busy that rather than harvesting our backyard apples, we opt for the convenience of buying apples at the supermarket.
But, if you ever find yourself so downtrodden about the state of the state, I urge you to meander down your street and neighboring streets and make a tentative map of the fruit trees that you can spot from the sidewalk. Armed with that map, muster up a bit of courage and knock on the door of a neighbor and ask if you might sample- at this time of the year- an orange, a grapefruit, a meyer lemon, a loquat. I assure you that if you ask politely and introduce yourself as a neighbor, you will so disarm the person at the door, and they will undoubtedly, resoundingly, say yes. It is heartwarming and inspiring to know that in our cities, these small and meaningful intervention can take place. I see interventions such as this working to recreate the fabric of our cities, weaving a landscape that is earnest, kind, and self-sufficient.
Or, if you’d like to give your neighbor time to ruminate, here is an example of a card you can leave said neighbor:
Each time I leave a note or knock on a front door, the introvert in me is terrified for a short moment, but that quickly subsides when some kind soul answers the door- a bit skeptical at first. That changes when it’s realized that all I’d really like are green walnuts in exchange for Santa Rosa plums. Visit your neighbors. Chances are, they’ll teach you something new.