Tips For A Neighborhood Fruit and Nut Harvester

For the urban fruit harvester, making the most of unused neighborhood fruit is essential for keeping an urban homestead.

| April 2014

Written for city dwellers by city dwellers, The Urban Homestead (Process Media, 2010) is an illustrated instruction guidebook for the homesteading movement. Kelly Croyne and Erik Knutzen show how to grow and preserve your own food, clean your house without resorting to toxins, and raise animals in your own backyard. This excerpt from “Urban Foraging” implores the reader to lose the guilt over foraging for neighborhood fruits and nuts. The following is an essential read for the urban fruit harvester.

One day the branch of a fruit tree is covered with pretty blossoms, and then the next time you look at it, the branch is groaning under the weight of more fruit than you can eat or give away. And as with all homegrown food, this fruit is of better quality than anything you can find in the supermarket: plums running over with juice, crisp apples full of subtle flavors, honeyed apricots that have nothing to do with mealy things offered in stores — fruit that would be pesticide soaked if you bought it in the supermarket, or expensive coming from the organic stall at the farmers' market. Despite this fact, a lot of neighborhood fruit goes unpicked, and ends up rotting at the base of the tree.

Why? Anyone who has tried to grow their own food knows there is nothing inconvenient about a plant that needs little care and yet produces bushels of food without prompting each year. Every home should have at least one. If you know some basic preservation techniques, dealing with that bounty does not need to be daunting. All it takes is a day or two to harvest the tree and preserve the fruit — whether that be by drying, canning, fermenting, making jam or even making cider.

It goes against homestead principles to let food go to waste — whether it be on your land, or someone else’s. A homesteader keeps their eye open for food-gathering opportunities at home and abroad, because any food you find is food you do not have to grow, and this includes other people’s trees. The law states that any fruit growing in a parkway strip, or on branches hanging over a sidewalk or alley is in public space and therefore fair game for you to pick. Of course it is better to ask permission when you can, and of course we don’t need to tell you not to break branches, climb on fences, or otherwise behave like a hooligan when you are picking fruit.

If you spot an overloaded tree in someone’s yard on your wanderings, and if your surreptitious sampling proves it to be tasty, inquire with the owner and see if they’ll let you harvest the whole thing. Odds are they will be grateful to you if you would relieve them of this burden, and will just tell you to take what you want.

As far as we are concerned, there cannot be too many fruit trees in any neighborhood. Unfortunately they are not as common as they should be, perhaps for the aforementioned “messy” reason, or because a couple of generations of bad supermarket fruit has made us suspicious of fruit eating on the whole. With any luck this will change as a new wave of homesteaders, community activists, permaculturists and forward-thinking landscapers begin to transform the urban landscape with food-bearing trees.

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