This post is from staff writer Kristin Wong.

I was recently reading Lauren Weber’s book, “In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue.” On page 16, I got a little excited:

“…, maps out public fruit trees in Los Angeles and encourages reader to gather up the bounty.”

A-whaaa? I jumped out of bed and onto the Internet, where I discovered Fallen Fruit is much, much more than a bunch of maps of public fruit trees (but it’s definitely that, too.)

J.D. also briefly wrote about Fallen Fruit here at Get Rich Slowly, and because it sounded like such an interesting idea that appealed to frugality, I decided to reach out to the artists to see if they’d be willing to answer some questions. They were. So I met with David Burns and Austin Young, two of the three artists behind the project (the third is Matias Viegener). I also produced a short video about Fallen Fruit, which you can watch below. And no, they didn’t pay me to create the video or to write about them. But if that skepticism came to mind, you’ve proved one of their points. But we’ll get to that later.

Fallen Fruit was started in 2004 as a response to a proposal for art projects that could benefit the community. That’s simplifying it, but Burns can better explain:

“The nexus of this proposal was: Is it possible to create a project that uses the agency of protest or activism without the idea of opposition? Was it possible to create a project that simply included everyone?”

Since 2004, Burns and Young have launched public fruit tree adoptions as well as a public fruit jam and public fruit foraging party. Then, this past January, they opened the Del Aire Public Fruit Park here in Los Angeles, where patrons will be able to gather free public fruit once it ripens. The park was a huge challenge to open, as Burns and Young had a year of meetings with various L.A. County agencies. Part of the challenge was convincing the county that a public fruit park is safe.

“We had to gently talk to everybody,” Young explains, “and assure them that we don’t know anybody, personally, who’s been blinded by a piece of fruit — ”

” — or injured themselves sharing a peach,” Burns jokes.

Now open, Del Aire Public Fruit Park is the first of its kind in California. From an economic perspective, the idea of abundance is what initially interested me about the project.

OK, maybe that interested me secondarily. It was the lure of free fruit that got me out of bed, after all.

I also think Fallen Fruit supports frugality. But especially in light of our recent discussion on frugality and virtue, I thought the idea of sharing abundance was especially interesting. Here are a few benefits of sharing:

Sharing builds community

“What we’re really interested in, when we do a project, is bringing people together,” Young explains. “And creating community. And maybe bringing communities together that don’t normally come together.”

The Del Aire Public Fruit Garden exemplifies this. While Brian and I were shooting the interview, we met a really nice couple, Fred and Donna, who stopped to learn more about the project. We hung out with them until the sun went down.

“It’s a way for us to all come together. And we have a common bond,” Fred said after the interview.

“I’m really inspired to go share some fruit trees with my neighbors now,” Donna told me. “Because this is beautiful. They’ve expanded our commons.”

While Brian and I don’t live in Del Aire, it was nice to talk to Donna and Fred and hear their thoughts on how sharing has benefited their community.

Sharing prevents waste

Fallen Fruit is also about reducing waste, which should appeal to the frugal-minded.

“We learned that where we live (Silverlake)…had over one hundred fruit trees that reached into or truly existed in public space,” Burns explains. “And just a short time ago, almost 10 years ago, people were not foraging. This is before the green movement, and before people had that consciousness…there were just hundreds and hundreds of pounds of produce going to waste while people drove just a couple of blocks to the store.”

When he said this, I thought about my tomato plant. It’s been producing an overwhelming number of tomatoes. But I don’t like tomatoes as much as I like gardening them. Recently, I was bragging about this plant to my mom. “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” I asked.

“Why don’t you share them with your neighbors?” she suggested.

“Eh,” I said. “Maybe I’ll use them for something.” They were my tomatoes, after all. So I kept them, in case I made — I don’t know — salsa or something. And then I never, ever made salsa. And now there are three rotting tomatoes outside. Granted, there are only three of them. But aside from wasting food, they symbolize a wasted opportunity to share abundance. And maybe even a wasted opportunity to get to know my neighbors better.

Oh, right. Giving is important!

J.D. often wrote about his own history and experience with charitable giving. Like J.D., I didn’t really grow up in a charitable environment, because, as he put it, “we were the ones in need.”

But charitable giving is important, whether it’s sharing wealth, fruit or time.

“The deeper I get into the third stage of personal finance, the more I think about my responsibilities to help others who are in need,” J.D. once wrote.

I understand. I’ve been wondering about those responsibilities lately. And maybe getting older has something to do with it, too, but I’ve been feeling more of an affinity with my community and the world around me. I’m not saying I want to give my money away or to stop trying to make as much of it as I can; I’m just saying: I think it’s important to help others, too.

Fallen Fruit’s take on money

We need money, and this is a personal finance blog, so the following concept attached to Fallen Fruit may be a contentious one here. Still, I think Burns and Young demonstrate an important point.

“When you take money out of the system of negotiation, what people end up doing, we’ve learned, is that people start negotiating by other terms,” Burns explains. “So they start telling stories. Or they start asking questions. So the tools of exchange become listening skills; they become emotional investments; they become joy.”

We live in a world where exchanging goods and services using money is necessary. But Fallen Fruit makes an interesting point in that this can dehumanize us. Hence the phrase, “money and friendships don’t mix.” Money can make us defensive and skeptical, and while we’re all here to share our adventures in making more of it, I do think it’s important to occasionally consider how it might affect us. An obsession with saving, financial inequality within friendships, lifestyle inflation — these concepts aren’t inherently bad, but they do have the potential to make us forget an important Get Rich Slowly principle:

“It’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich: ‘Don’t become obsessed with money and wealth…Money gives you more options, but happiness makes life worth living. I believe that if we’re able to stay happy and in control of our lives, money actually becomes easier to manage.’”

I’d like to read your comments and thoughts on Fallen Fruit. Keep in mind that the artists have graciously volunteered their time and resources to this story (they also make no money from Fallen Fruit), so I’ll kindly ask that you respond with the respect, tact and constructiveness that I’ve come to enjoy from the majority of Get Rich Slowly readers.

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