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The modern harvest

(article, Stephanie Beechem)

In some circles, it's known as “urban foraging.” Or “urban crop sharing,” or “urban communism.” 

The terms all describe a growing movement that brings together diverse lovers of produce, freebies, and practical idealism. The goal? To make use of publicly available food that would otherwise go to waste.

Around the country, groups, websites, and tours focused on urban foraging spotlight everything from figs, walnuts, and apples growing on public trees to wild herbs and mushrooms sprouting up in public parks and forests. The organizations include the Urban Edibles Project in Portland, Oregon, Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, and New York City's Wild Food Tours.
Urban Edibles features an interactive Google map to locations of public food sources: rosemary, walnuts, apples, dill, strawberries, blackberries, even kiwifruit vines. 

Fallen Fruit provides maps of Los Angeles locations where everything from lemons to persimmons are available on public city streets. The Fruitarians also host a regular Nocturnal Food Forage, a tour of nearby neighborhoods demonstrating the bounty of the urban yield.

In Oakland, California, Temescal Amity Works (unfortunately less operational now than it was a few years ago) not only supports urban foraging efforts but actively seeks out and gives away food, mostly fruit foraged from public spaces. 

For a real walk on the wild side of urban foraging, try the tours offered by Wild Food Adventures in Portland, Oregon, or the Big Apple's Wild Food Tours, led by the eccentric “Wildman” Steve Brill. Both offer food conservationists the chance to forage for herbs and other edible plants in public parks and wilderness.

But before you run for your Crocs, pruning shears, and plastic bags, remember that there can be restrictions, not to mention plain old protocol, when it comes to urban foraging in public areas. Check out a few guidelines for safe and conscientious urban foraging first. In addition, some public parks and wilderness areas may require specific permits for such activities as, say, oyster harvesting, so make sure to check with the specific park before foraging.

Now go forth, and eat local.

Also on Culinate: An interview with a professional forager and an essay about pursuing free fruit.