Meditations

pushing the boundaries of urban foraging


When I was a kid we would spend our entire summer, from the end of June to the end of August, at our family property on the Sunshine Coast of  BC. Most days there were two chores we kids would have to get through before we were free to run wild on the beach; a half hour typing lesson with an audio tape and an old fashioned typewriter in the basement of the family cottage, and picking a bucket of berries.

I hated both chores equally. I cheated at the first (looked at my fingers) and grumbled through the second. My older cousins were cunning enough to fill the bottom halves of their berry buckets with gravel, enabling them a faster exit to beach time, though I gather the day their mother pulled those buckets out of the freezer to make a pie did not end so favourably.

I read somewhere that picking wild berries is the last common form of urban foraging, and as the years went by and I developed a desire to be as deeply connected to my food system as I could, berry picking no longer seemed a chore to me. When my husband, Paul, and I would spend the few weeks of our summer holidays at the family home, we’d make time each day for berry picking. We’d stake out bigger and better patches around town and would fill, at the very least, a 4L ice cream bucket with berries each day. One year we picked enough berries over our summer holiday that we each had a handful of frozen berries with our breakfast every day well into the next spring.

I had my first taste of urban foraging in Sweden this summer. I’ve been working (as one does after graduation when one has no formal work experience in one’s chosen field and has relocated to a country where one don’t yet have the firmest grasp on the first language) as a professional dog walker. This new line of work has seen me spend hours upon hours meandering through some of the more affluent suburbs of Stockholm, and there has been plenty of foragable food within my grasp. Small patches of smultron, a teeny but fiercely sweet feral strawberry, are easy to find if you know what you’re looking for. Raspberry canes are sporadic. Many yards have ‘decorative’ shrubs dripping with red, white, and blackcurrants. The tub of redcurrants pictured above was foraged from a shrub in my friend Alina’s apartment courtyard. It took me less than ten minutes to pick and is now stashed away in the freezer.

What is the  most abundant are the fruit trees leaning over the roadways from large, immaculate back yards. In July it was cherries. Wandering the quiet streets I could stuff handful after handful of ripe cherries into my mouth. Now, in the waning moments of August, apples and pears are abundant. Huge, old, glorious apple trees, with varieties ranging from tiny green orbs to huge fiercely red apples that look like something out of Snow White. And oh they are ripe. So ripe that the air is thick with the smell of fermenting fruit in some places, entire trees exploding into spores of mold. Apples and pears are falling off of the trees onto the lawns beneath them and, in the places where trees are straining against the fences, onto the road beneath. In one place ripe pears dangle precariously above a Porsche that has been parked on the street.

So, dear Foodists, I ask you this: is fallen fruit fair game? Is tree fruit hanging over a public walkway open for picking? What if you can reach over the fence and into the yard? What if you’re preventing fruit from falling on and damaging a very expensive car? Just what are the boundaries of urban foraging?

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