Foraging for Fruit
July 1, 2010 § 2 Comments
Recently, I read Farm City: Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, about a woman who moves to west Oakland and transforms a trash-strewn, abandoned lot abutting her apartment building into a vegetable garden and fruit tree grove. She then moves onto livestock: first fowl (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese — many of which get killed by dogs and opossums), then rabbits, and finally, two pigs.
At one point, she decides she needs a greater purpose in her locavore quest. So she decides to eat only what she has grown or can forage for a month. (She loses 12 pounds doing this.) At one point, she’s bicycling around Oakland and spots a plum tree in a neighbor’s yard, so she climbs up a fence and picks two bagfuls to eat.
The other day, I found myself doing something similar.
While walking around the Castro in San Francisco one sunny afternoon, I noticed a tree bearing what looked like tiny, magenta plums, on a slice of land bordering public stairs. As luck would have it, two tree guys were trimming a tree in a person’s yard nearby, so I asked them if they knew what it was and if it was on public land. They said they thought it was a cherry plum, and that yes, it was public land…meaning, I could pick from the tree.
So a week later, when there weren’t tree guys around to watch me do this, I climbed the stairs, jumped up onto the wall separating me and the plum tree, leaned way over while hoping that I would not tumble onto my head, and picked a plum. As I hopped off of the wall and headed home, I felt a small sense of triumph and joy.
I thought it might taste bad. When Novella samples her plums, they’re dry and sour, so she ends up stewing and canning them. But when I sliced this one open, it was glistening with juice, and the flesh was light and sweet, with an edge of tartness just under the skin.
Of course, I wanted to know what it was. So, this being San Francisco, there is, of course, a website that maps the species of fruit trees across the city that are available for foraging. It’s called “Neighborhood Fruit: ‘cos fruit from your ‘hood is good!“. (Yes, that is the real tagline.) It’s an organization founded by Kaytea Petro, and its mission is to to make use of the abundant fruit growing in our urban environments by helping people find and share fruit from their backyards and on public lands. Currently, according to Neighborhood Fruit, the bulk of fruit grown in backyards and in our cities goes to waste, while the fruit we consume is grown in water-intensive orchards far from our homes. They’ve identified 10,000 trees nationwide so far.
Thanks to the website, I identified my tasty little plum as a Krauter Vesuvius Cherry Plum (the tree guys were right and Neighborhood Fruit delivered on its promise — gotta love it when people are great at what they do).