Last summer and fall, I was a resident at the Fondazione Pistoletto, a visual arts foundation in northern Italy that offers artist-in-residence-ships to burgeoning and mid-career artists. I spent the time there working on a Forage Oakland instructional guide that will eventually be of use to other fruit barter networks as they build neighborhood gleaning projects. The guide will be completed at the end of this summer, and will be available to you, if you’d like.
This is a list of frequently asked questions that I hope will be of use.
This is a list of questions that have been oft-asked of me by those wishing to start a similar project, or those who are simply curious about the trajectory of this project. If you have a question that is not answered here, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add it to the list.
When Did Forage Oakland start and how did it start?
Forage Oakland began in the spring of 2008, and was borne out of my desire to continue the work of Temescal Amity Works, which was a fruit harvesting/ community engagement project created by two artists, Susanne Cockrell and Ted Purves. Temescal Amity Works was a multi-year project that took place between July 2004 and January 2007.
What inspired you to start Forage Oakland?
I began Forage Oakland after spending four years in the Bay Area, and each season becoming more enamored by the bounty that exists in our backyards. Not only was I struck by the bounty, but I was also struck by the resulting waste of backyard fruit. This waste comes from either a disinterest in the fruit; eventually becoming sated with one’s backyard bounty; or a schedule that does not permit as robust a harvest as necessary to stay on top of the tree’s outpouring of fruit. I thought it was a pity that there was such fine fruit in our neighborhoods and such a large amount of this fruit was going to waste simply for lack of time to harvest it. I began to consider various ways to harvest and equitably redistribute the fruit. Thus, Forage Oakland was borne. Temescal Amity Works served as a great inspiration, of course.
Also, after having established Forage Oakland, I discovered that there was a very similar-minded project called Abundance Sheffield, which is a UK-based harvesting project.
Was it difficult to recruit members, and how did you publicize it?
Recruitment for Forage Oakland involved canvassing my neighborhood of Temescal, on foot for several days at a time, for about two weeks. I canvassed between 40th and 50th Streets, between Telegraph Avenue and Broadway. I took a set of binoculars with me, and each time I spotted a fruit tree, whether it be public or private, I’d make a note of the nearest street address with the idea of later sending the associated resident a letter requesting permission to harvest the tree’s fruit. In this fashion, I’d hand write or type brief notes to North Oaklanders, and until the Forage Oakland blog began to attract attention, I continued in this manner. Luckily, the blog streamlined the process, and it allowed new members to register via an online enrollment form.
What neighborhoods does Forage Oakland serve?
Forage Oakland serves North Oakland and South Berkeley neighbors. If you live in the Bay Area but not within these confines, other harvest projects may be able to harvest your excess fruit. Please see the bottom, right hand corner of this blog for information on other Bay Area harvest projects. Hopefully by the end of the summer, Forage Oakland will have a wider reach, serving many more neighborhoods and residents of Oakland.
I thought there was a similar project called Forage San Francisco?
When I first began Forage Oakland in the spring of 2008, the intention was to harvest fruit in both East Bay neighborhoods and in San Francisco. I soon realized that this was an almost insurmountable task, and decided I’d stick to harvesting in the East Bay. If you have an early business card from Forage Oakland, it may read Forage Oakland::Forage San Francisco, as the original idea was to harvest surplus fruit in both localities.
The community supported forage project of Iso Rabins happens to be called ForageSF, but the two projects are unrelated; they just happen to have similar names.
What fruits are commonly bartered within the Forage Oakland network?
Here is a full list of all fruits (and nuts) that have been traded within the Forage Oakland network:
apples, apricots, Asian pears, avocado, blackberries, elderberries, elderflowers, eureka lemons, fennel, figs, fuyu persimmons, grapefruit, hachiya persimmons, huckleberries, loquats, meyer lemons, mulberries, nectarines (white), olives, oranges, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple guava, plums, prickly pear, quince, sour cherries, tamarillo, walnuts (green)
Do you trade vegetables as well?
No, only fruit. One of the aims of Forage Oakland is to redistribute fruit that would otherwise be wasted, fruit that has- in previous years- been left to rot in giant heaps. So Forage Oakland does not harvest vegetables that have intentionally been cultivated. If you have a surplus of garden vegetables, I’d recommend contacting Neighborhood Vegetables.
Are people willing to harvest their own fruit?
Yes! Sometimes members will harvest their own fruit and kindly leave it in a bag on- say- the porch. I am always happy to harvest, but it certainly makes the distribution process easier when I’m able to speed through the harvesting step…
How do you distribute the fruit? Do you go door to door, or does everyone meet in a central location?
For the past two years, I’ve been distributing the fruit by bicycle, and this summer, I am creating ways to streamline the distribution process so that those who wish to become involved in distributing fruit in exchange for access to surplus fruit can become involved. This summer will most likely mark the end of this former distribution style, and will make way for a more streamlined process that will connect community organizations (i.e. youth organizations, shelters, hospice care facilities, etc), individuals who would like to offer harvest help, and fruit tree owners.
The Forage Oakland marmalade and jam exchanges also offer a chance for attendees to exchange fresh fruit with their neighbors.
Can you explain a bit about the jam and marmalade exchanges?
Eventually, there will be a bi-monthly marmalade and jam exchange, which will be an opportunity to trade surplus homemade preserves with one’s neighbors. You may know the feeling of having excess plum jam- for example- in your cupboard, entirely too much to consume on one’s own. Why not bring your preserves (made from excess backyard fruit) to a Forage Oakland Preserves Exchange and barter your surplus plum jam for orange marmalade? At the moment, the exchanges are seasonal and is open to the public (not only Forage Oakland members).
This summer I will also experiment with decentralized marmalade and jam exchanges, i.e. any Oakland resident can elect to host a marmalade and jam exchange in his or her neighborhood, or there could even be a dedicated day of decentralized marmalade and jam exchanges all over the city. What do you think?
Do you think Forage Oakland or a project like it is something that could be sustained year round?
Yes, I think it could be. The Bay Area is fortunate enough to have a year round growing season, which lends itself to a year round harvesting network. Aside from a short lull between citrus season and loquat season (late March until late May), there is a profound glut of fruit in Oakland; and Eureka lemons are actually available year round in some Oakland neighborhoods.
How do I start a chapter in my own neighborhood?
Email me directly if you would like to start a chapter of Forage Oakland. If you live outside of Oakland and would like to start a harvesting group using the Forage Oakland model, please email me as well, and I’d be happy to offer guidance. After taking a break to work on graduate school applications, I plan to finish the ‘How To’ manual that I began last summer at the Fondazione Pistoletto; it will be available at the end of the summer and will serve as a guide to others as they start their own urban harvesting/ bartering networks. My email address is email@example.com.
Do you always ask for permission before picking fruit?
Yes, I do always ask before I harvest from private property. One of the main goals of Forage Oakland is to work alongside other grassroots projects in Oakland and build a community of people who have the necessary information to be more proactive in their food choices. As in many cities, one can live in an apartment for an entire year without ever seeing the downstairs neighbors. It’s not uncommon at all, but I don’t find it any less dismaying. It is my hope that in meeting our neighbors through a shared love of their fruit tree, we can hope to build a community that cares for and knows one another. Asking to harvest from your neighbor’s fruit tree could be the first step in eventually building a bond with your neighbor. One could choose to bypass this step, but also never know what could have come from that small intervention.
Is it lawful in California to pick fruit if the branches hang over onto public property?
Yes, if a particular branch hangs over a public sidewalk, it is lawful to harvest the fruit of said branch. However, if the tree is growing on someone’s private property, I still consider it a courtesy to ask permission before harvesting.
Do you give all of the fruit away or do you sometimes sell it?
The fruit that is harvested through Forage Oakland is not sold, not even in special occasions. The mission of the project is to foster the meeting of neighbors around the shared resource of abundant neighborhood fruit. To that end, Forage Oakland encourages neighbors to exchange their fruit with one another, and encourages the playful exploration of barter and gift economies.