‘Fallen Fruit’ and the concept of sharing abundance

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:

“…www.FallenFruit.org, 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.

More about...Food, Giving

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MoneyAhoy.com
MoneyAhoy.com
7 years ago

I think this is such an awesome idea to bring the community together to share fruit and friendship!

I think the concept can really help people to see the importance of giving back to friends and the community.

Great article on sharing!

AMW
AMW
7 years ago

LOVE this concept…I have been trying to find a name for this sort of idea when expressing it with others. Somehow “good stewardship” just doesn’t impress people. Now I will have something not only to refer people to but back me up as well!

Mrs. Waste Not
Mrs. Waste Not
7 years ago

Best and most inspiring idea I have heard in years!

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
7 years ago

One doesn’t need to give objects of abundance to share. There’s also the abundance of time.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

I think this is a great idea. Fruit trees can be a real benefit to a community, but stewardship is necessary as fruit trees can and do attract rats and other vermin (I speak from experience). We have a big glorious mango tree at one of our rental properties and it puts out so many mangoes it is almost impossible to keep up with and sadly some fruit does get tossed (b/c if it sits on ground too long it rots). We have some programs where we can donate the fruit and they provide same to food banks and homeless… Read more »

Carmen
Carmen
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

Lucky for you! My Mom in FL has a couple of lime trees and she juices the limes as they become ripe, adding the juice to the already frozen juice from the last bunch. She has lime juice all year round to make smoothies, Gin Rickies and Key Lime pie…mmm

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds like a great idea! It seems like a very tangible way to build community.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

Freecycle is often used as a portal in our area for sharing when one gets overwhelmed with abundance in their backyard. You’ll see a post like “Come pick a bag of avacados for yourself; engough ripe for 10 people right now”.

It tends to encourage community a bit more than just picking them yourself and leaving them with a “free” sign at the end of the driveway, and as a plus it also spreads the picking work out.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

Yes, of course share an over abundance of food…..and furniture you no longer need….and clothes you have tired of.

The possibilities are endless.

Tara @ Streets Ahead Living
Tara @ Streets Ahead Living
7 years ago

First of all, I want to say I just read that book and loved it. It was fascinating seeing the cultural history of thrift vs. spendthrift in US history. It’s fascniating to see that we weren’t really thrifty in our beginngings like many people might lament. And I love the idea of Fallen Fruit. I actually strongly believe in the Freegan movement that is really strong here in NYC. The idea that perfectly good food goes to waste, fills landfills, and only adds to the high methane levels in our atmosphere while the numbers of hungry people remain high frustrates… Read more »

HS
HS
7 years ago

I am sure this will rub some the wrong way but frannkly I am suspect when yet another “collective” idea surfaces intimating that those who have should feel imputed guilt because they happen to have a surpluse of anything! Of course those that have are chastised because they either didn’t support the idea or did not give enough. While giving of surplus to needy people why not teach them to grow their own (both figuratively and literally)? Perhaps the author likes the idea of a collective better than individual initiative? I don’t know but I know I do not! I… Read more »

Rail
Rail
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

Growing fruit trees will not lead to a socialist utopia I’m sure. The concept of “waste not want not” and giving extra to your friends and neighbors is a bedrock of Midwestern/Iowa values, and I can assure you HS that Iowa is NOT a hotbed of “collective” activism. Sorry to be a little snarky but, come on! We are talking about a art project to grow fruit trees and be nice to the neighborhood and we have to politicize it? Just so we all know I’m Independent/Libritarian/Theodore Roosevelt- Republican/Harry Truman-Democrat if that makes any sense. LOL!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

Isn’t it pretty cynical to think that giving people some extra apples that fell off a tree is enabling them? I also don’t see how the project implies people should feel guilty. I mean, these are public trees. Public. No one owns them. No one is being chastised or shamed or anything. So I don’t get it. Plus, the fruit isn’t even necessarily for the needy. It’s for anyone. Even rich people. He says in the video that people are going to the store to buy stuff that they can get for free. This is more about not wasting stuff.… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

This is food we are talking about, and anybody who has grown it can assure you it is not something to be thrown aside lightly. There is hard physical labor behind every piece of produce, even if you are “just” gleaning fruit from trees in parks. Somebody has broken a sweat over the stuff – the most basic definition of “labor” you can get. I would also like to point out that this sort of trading has been how human beings have been getting along for centuries, indeed, do get along in most of the world where people still rely… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

Sharing fruit is such a basic thing to do, and I admire the group for doing this. As someone with a teeny backyard garden (and with aspirations of having a hobby farm), it’s a great feeling to be able to share. I love it, and I feel great being able to give someone my surplus zucchini and tomatoes. I have an abundance, so instead of letting the food rot, why not give it to my neighbors? Besides, I think the world could do with a little bit of kindness. And if you (or anyone else) is faced with an abundance… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

Having lived in and around low income housing, I have to ask: where do you think people are going to grow their own food? It’s not like there’s an abundance of space to grow things when you live in an apartment or a tiny row house.

I hate waste, so I love the idea of people benefiting from fallen fruit from trees on public land. If some people feel guilty or offended by this project, that’s their problem.

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  HS

HS,
In spite of the criticism you’ve received on your comment, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. It’s a point well taken and it ought to be pondered.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  jim

I wonder if HS read the same post I did, or maybe I don’t understand the project? It struck me as a community sharing initiative to make use of what otherwise would go to waste — not necessarily a way to support people who can’t afford food. Kristin didn’t go running down there because she’s broke, after all. And she was considering giving her tomatoes to her neighbours — who presumably don’t need food? — rather than the food bank.

I’m confused.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I just realized HS pulled an Uncle Danny!

My Uncle Danny does this a lot…he takes a completely unrelated topic and uses it as a platform to discuss his politics. Once, I complimented Uncle Danny on his sweater, and instead of saying, “thank you,” he replied with a half-hour monologue on immigration reform.

I respect you and your opinion HS, but you’ve totally Uncle Danny-ed this story! 😉

M
M
7 years ago

In Ontario there is a growing movement called Fruit Share whereby homeowners (usually older folks)who have fruit trees connect with Fruit Share volunteers to come in and pick their trees. The produce is divided into thirds- one portion is given to the owner, another to the pickers, and the final portion to the food bank. A lovely idea!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  M

Ooooh! Thanks for mentioning it. I don’t have fruit trees, but would love to be involved with something like this.

Do you have a link for the program?

Rail
Rail
7 years ago

This post caught my attention right away as it deals with a topic that hasn’t been on GRS in a long time, GARDENING! When JD and Kris were together it was a semi regular topic and the idea of gardening as frugality is one that is close to this gardeners heart. The Fallen Fruit(FF) project is awesome on so many levels that I’m going to try to spread something like it here in Iowa. Of course the fact that most people share from the garden is not a new concept out here in the sticks and to not let things… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago
Reply to  Rail

Yeah…..I miss having the annual garden report from Kris. Hope she is still enjoying her garden.

Ohplease
Ohplease
7 years ago

I am a volunteer for Not Far from The Tree which picks fruit from trees in the neighborhood, in Toronto. Property owners (private individuals, the city, universities, etc) sign up for us to come and pick their fruit. We make jam with much of it which we then donate part of and sell the rest in order to raise funds. Volunteers also get to keep some of the fruit which is great. I love it for a variety of reasons one of which is I get to make new friends in a city I have just moved to and another… Read more »

M
M
7 years ago
Reply to  Ohplease

Thanks to you guys, this same idea has been picked up in Barrie, too.

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago

I remember seeing small citrus trees planted along streets in both Rome and Naples while in Italy several years ago. They looked really pretty and you could see that people were picking the low fruit. Today in our local paper there was a letter complaining about people using extra long fruit picking poles stealing mangoes for garden trees inside private property….not being happy with the mangoes growing outside the wall. I have two breadfruit trees in my yard that produce way more fruit than I can eat. However I have lots of people knocking on my door wanting to pick/buy… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

I am not trying to be a kill-joy, but would it be possible that you could pick your own fruit yourself, then just sell it? I wouldn’t want people on my private property picking fruit – if they slipped and fell, would I be held liable?

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

I like the article and the concept! If a city is planting trees in a city park, why CAN’T those be FRUIT trees? Great idea! I also wanted to comment, though, about an environment of giving to others. I’ve heard a number of people state that the reason they did not grow up giving to others was because they were too poor. But my experience where I grew up was the opposite. I was raised in a small town in the middle of nowhere, where there were a lot of people without. But the people there were even more generous… Read more »

sheri
sheri
7 years ago

I embrace the idea. I have actually approached people with overabundant fruit trees. I offer to pick them for our local food shelter. I have been turned down 90% of the time. They would rather have the fruit rot on the tree than to help others. I explain the benefits of picking the fruit to help the trees and the contribution to others who are not as fortunate. I’m so disappointed with the attitudes in this country.

Liz
Liz
7 years ago

This type of sharing provides much more than fruit! We have a local blueberry farm in our area, that if you are willing to hike the mile to get to it, you can pick all the blueberries you want. My college age daughter and her friends did this one Sunday morning and it was much more than free fruit. They exercised, talked, laughed, worked and then came home and shared with family and friends. They could have been at the mall or an expensive coffee shop but instead they were picking fruit and coming together as friends. Priceless. Hopefully people… Read more »

Skint in the City
Skint in the City
7 years ago

Lovely project, beautiful name. I’ve always hated seeing apples lying rotten on the ground. This is a great solution – wonder if there’s anything similar here in the UK. There should be!

Priswell
Priswell
6 years ago

When I was a kid, my mom used to haul us off to two places every year. Our public park had a walnut tree, and she’d make us go out and pick them up for family use. We’d spend days cracking and eating those walnuts. Also, there used to be a blackberry bush along side a canal nearby, and every year, we’d have to go and pick them so she could make blackberry jam. In both cases, it was hard work, but, we got was for us treats, that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It wasn’t about hunger or starvation, as… Read more »

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