Street Fruit


The New York Times had a charming piece yesterday by Kim Severson about foraging for fruit in urban neighborhoods.  My basic feeling is, "Yeah!"  It's just a shame to let beautiful food go to waste, so if the owner of an old fruit tree or vine is not using the fruit, why not reach up off the sidewalk and pick some?

For example, my six year-old is madly in love with the small blue slipskin grapes on a chainlink fence around an old house in Saratoga.  Every time she walks by, she comes away with her hands full of a bunch of them.  I cannot persuade her that they belong to somebody else–and I'm not sure they really do.

On the other hand, I've had peach trees on my hellstrip for the last few years, and I lose most of the fruit to the track season drunks coming home from our fair city's umpteen bars, who then spit the pits into my neighbor's garbage can.  Right now, that makes me mad.  In a few years, I'll be getting enough peaches to have a sense of humor about it.

I've been planting fruit like crazy for the last few years, because I am just weary to death of bad,  expensive supermarket fruit.  In the country, I have rhubarb, grapes, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, pie cherries, pears, and cow apples planted long ago.  I can't say that I've harvested much except the cow apples and the rhubarb.  The rest, the birds make off with just as they are getting ripe.  This year, I've gotten stingier and netted most of it.

In the city, I keep finding new spots for fruit trees even in a tiny yard.  In addition to the peaches, which are delicious beyond belief, I have a white grape vine, a newly planted blue slipskin grape for Grace, an apricot tree, two plum trees, two just-planted sweet cherries, and some new blackberries that I made sun for by taking down a rotting section of fence.

Come by in a few years.  I'll share.


  1. I am a total scavenger when it comes to “free” fruit. I will knock on doors, put ads in craigslist and freecycle and find it in public parks and areas. There is so much good food that people just let rot because they don’t know how to use it or don’t want to take the time to pick it.

    Case in point, the giant stash of rhubarb I have begged from neighbors and friends.

  2. Some time ago I read in a blog about this guy whose solution to the birds eating his blueberries was to plant more bushes. Birds are one thing, humans are another.
    The only problem I have with people harvesting fruit from my trees is that they are not always as respectful of the tree as I am. Broken limbs and scarred trunks can be the result of people harvesting from a fruit tree they have no personal investment in. Other than that, I actually have a small sense of pride when other people enjoy the fruit of my labor.
    As a child in Mexico, I have fond memories of going into empty house’s backyards to harvest dates, mangoes, guava, oranges, limes, lemons, pomegranates…Oh the list goes on and on…

  3. I just asked permission from the neighboring community college to pick their service berries and mulberries – they said “take me all.” My rule is: it it is not yours, ask. Period. Really that simple.

    I’ve had food, seed, and plants stolen from my property – and just heard from a neighbor who watched from her kitchen window an elderly couple come into her garden and steal a big hunk of rosemary. It is a sickening feeling and violation. I sympathize with you on the peaches.

  4. When I first moved to Sacramento, I thought I’d found Eden. Citrus & cherry trees as yard trees ? Unbelievable ! Add to that the wild plums & the abandoned almond orchards near my home, the volunteer figs at the railroad tracks… yes, I’ve found paradise.

    That said, though, I would never think to pick without permission. Last winter my husband asked for some prickly pear jelly, such as he remembered from his Arizona youth. I drove around for 1/2 a day trying to locate cacti in fruit. When I did find it, it was very tempting to simply pick it & run, especially since while I tried to raise someone in the house, the fruits were falling off & rotting on the ground. Eventually I left a note & was so grateful when the owner called & said “come by anytime, pick all you want, you don’t even need to let us know you’re here”. They were simply glad they wouldn’t have to retrieve all that rotten fruit from amongst the thorns !

    Now if I can just get an answer from the folks at the State Capitol as to whether citizens can have some of that citrus growing in Capitol Park, currently eaten only by squirrels. There’s a Seville Orange there I’m envisioning as marmalade …

  5. Kathy J, you just reminded me of a 90 year-old neighbor I once had named Freemont who used to pick my blackberry patch clean and then sell the berries in front of his house for $2 a pint.

    I guess he figured that he was grandfathered in when we bought the place. And he did always give us a pint or two.

    He made me laugh. But it was fine. There was always enough left for me to make a pie, and we had jobs, so we’d never have gotten around the picking the rest anyway.

  6. I’d be interested to see where and how you’re fitting your fruit trees in your city garden. I live in the burbs, and have a decent size yard. I would love to grow a couple of apple trees, but I’m afraid of how much space I’ll have to give up. I’ve seen them espaliered, and that seems like a good solution.

  7. Poway planted grapefruit trees and harvested them for a couple of years. Now they just fall off the trees and rot along the street. It makes me sad.

    My mulberry is fruiting and feeding the local birds — wish someone would come harvest it when it gets this messy! My dogs love the berries too, though. UNfortunately it’s in the back yard so no one can pick them just walking by. I also have olives ( the entire neighborhood was once an olive grove) which can get messy — used to have a nice Italian family come pick them but no one has used them for years now. I wish I could do more with my fruiting trees, but just haven’t found the patience and time for it… I would welcome others harvesting them!

  8. Even children should ask before taking anything from someone’s yard. Hopefully it gives the homeowner the chance to feel generous.

  9. I live down here in Panama, and when you visit the neighbors it is considered polite to give them raw ingredients. That’s usually a coconut, bag of grape fruits, bunch of bananas or a winter squash. I like this traditions of sharing what you have in plenty. I think I will try and bring it home with me when I come back to The States.

    Although, I think this already exists in Georgia. But more in the form of baked goods. Fruit or bread, I won’t object to either.

  10. We like to pick handfuls of raspberries and blueberries that we find on trails. I don’t think we’d get away with foraging cherries from my neighbor’s tree – we’d need a ladder to get up there. Not too subtle. But maybe I’ll work up th nerve to ask him.

  11. Pam, my solution is just to grow trees that don’t get very big. I picked a sweet cherry variety called Lapin, for instance, because it’s reportedly a natural semi-dwarf that tops out at between 12-15 feet.

    Plums, too, stay pretty small, so I’ve found a spot for them.

    You might want to plant dwarf or semi-dwarf apples, though I can’t vouch for their productivity.

    I’ve read, too, that it’s possible to keep any fruit tree a reasonable size by pruning strictly. But I haven’t tried this myself.

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