Urban Fruit Gleaning: Harvesting Fresh Fruit in the Middle of the City

Though Kris and I live just a few miles from downtown Portland, we're fortunate to have three-fifths of an acre of land. This allows us to set aside some large spaces to grow fruits, berries, herbs, flowers, and vegetables.

Not all city-dwellers are so fortunate. In fact, millions of people don't have access to a yard at all. For some of these, container gardening may be an option. Others might consider community gardens or farm subscriptions.

One Portland organization is championing another way for city-dwellers to find fresh produce: urban fruit gleaning. The Portland Fruit Tree Project was created to salvage the fruit that might otherwise go to waste along the city streets. From the site:

We have an abundance of fruit growing on trees in residential areas of Portland. But every year, thousands of pounds of this delicious organic food drops without being harvested, turning into a sticky mess in yards and sidewalks. Meanwhile, many people living on low incomes have limited access to fresh fruit, vital to a healthy diet.

The Portland Fruit Tree Project organizes people in the Portland community to gather fruit before it falls, and make this valuable resource available to those who need it most.

Here's a short video that demonstrates urban fruit gleaning in action:

 

If you live in the city, watch for trees in your neighborhood with fruits or nuts that go unharvested. If you're brave enough to knock on a stranger's door, you might just find yourself with access to free food.

For more information about gleaning and about finding fresh produce in the city, check out the following resources:

  • University of Maine: Organizing a community garden [PDF] and Food for your community: Gleaning and sharing [PDF]
  • Sprouts in the Sidewalk is a blog about urban agriculture
  • Fallen Fruit is a site devoted to mapping free fruit in urban areas (particularly Los Angeles)
  • Planting Milkwood: How to make a feral fruit map — a guide to mapping the available fruit in your area
  • Guerilla Gardening encourages readers to reclaim neglected public urban spaces by planting flowers and crops
  • City Farmer is all about urban agriculture: community gardens, container gardening, and more

Last week, we noticed that the neighbor's cherry tree wasn't being picked. Because she thought it would be a shame for that fruit to go to waste, Kris knocked on the door to ask if she could help herself. The neighbor agreed. In fact, it turned into a sort of community gathering as families from several homes gathered to climb ladders and gather the fresh fruit.

More about...Food, Frugality

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Andrew
Andrew

Question: considering the time, energy and resources required to grow food, is it actually cost-efficient? To yield, say, 20 tomatoes on a plant, is it actually worth the time weeding and taking care of pests (bugs, rodents) as well as expenses for fertilizer and water?

J.D.
J.D.

Andrew, that’s one of the questions I’m exploring with my year-long garden project. I’m beginning to believe that financially, it really does make sense to grow a garden (especially certain plants).

If you factor the time, though, that’s another matter. If you view gardening as a chore, then it probably doesn’t make economic sense. But if you enjoy it, gardening looks to be a cost-effective way to get fresh produce. I’ll know for sure at the end of the year.

Gleaning, however, can be a great way to get food for cheap.

MoneyBlogga
MoneyBlogga

What a great idea. I’d never given it any sort of thought but now that you mention it, it makes perfect sense. The city in which I reside has a harsh climate (too cold, too hot) which means that many plants and trees won’t grow here but, if one lives in an area where there are such trees, why not collect the fruit? I definitely would.

Autumn
Autumn

My husband and I do this every year. He found some apricot trees while running by another apartment complex. No one ever picks the fruit, so almost all of it just ends up rotting on the ground. We just finished canning about 50 pints of apricot necter and jam. All the apricots were free from this apartment complex. We actually talked about the financial viability of this yesterday. We’re both students with hourly jobs, and we could have worked the 4 hours it took us to can. While discussing it, we realized that even if we weren’t canning, we wouldn’t… Read more »

Amy Jo
Amy Jo

Great post. The Portland Fruit Tree Project sounds like a wonderful organization–a great way to get good food into the hands of people who need it. Donations of fresh foods are always needed and welcomed at food banks. One of my goals for our garden (next year, when we actually have time to put one in) is to participate in Plant a Row for the Hungry (see: http://www.gardenwriters.org/Par/index.html).

For those interested, Heidi Swanson recently wrote about her experience gleaning in the Bay Area: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/cherry-cobbler-recipe.html

Leah
Leah

I live in Washington DC and do container gardening in trash cans in our small (bricked) backyard. You can see photos here!

It’s probably not a money-maker, I’m not even sure if we’ll break even, but it’s good for my soul, good for my boys, and a great family hobby.

http://thecitymom.blogspot.com/ (click on “container garden” on the right side)

Leah

Poor Richard
Poor Richard

J.D.,

Thanks, this is great! I love this kind of stuff. I live in Los Angeles, where the law is that if fruit grows OVER public property the fruit itself is public property, regardless of where the tree is.

xysea
xysea

Wow, this is right up my alley! lol I have a container garden, but just down the road from me there is a farmer’s market with locally grown produce at prices much better than the grocery store! Also I recently paid $5 to participate in an organic gardening co-op. You attend 3 session to learn about gardening, apply what you learn and at the end of the season you get a share of what is produced. I’m very excited about that! I was a little disappointed in the fruit selection at the farmer’s market today, though. I do have a… Read more »

CB
CB

I started a garden this morning in a friend’s yard! It’s very rewarding beyond the financials.

Melanie
Melanie

I volunteer my time with the CSA I belong to – it started with bartering – I do the delivery in exchange for my share of the veggies….a bonus, I have been able to glean any veggies or fruit (and sometimes eggs) that are beyond the sell date, or with imperfections or bruises, etc. I don’t mind cutting out a bad spot that paying customers would reect. I took up canning and preservation and have lots of preserved veggies from the CSA farm.

Penny
Penny

Last year we gleaned a few paper shopping bags full of crab apples from the trees outside my husband’s office (with management permission). Crab apple jelly tastes a lot like sour apple jelly and we had enough to give as gifts, paying just for the sugar. Of course, I boiled some into hard candy for my husband to share with his officemates, who were shocked that the decorative trees could actually produce something so tasty.

Jessica
Jessica

Doing some personal research, back in ancient times people would leave about a quarter of their fields deliberately unharvested so the poor could glean off the fields and have food to eat.

It’s nice to see this ancient practice coming back!

Paul
Paul

@Adam,

For the reasons already mentioned above by others it is worth while to “grow your own”. But the biggest reason for me is that you can grow so many different varieties that you can never get at a store or even at farmers markets. Plus, there is absolutely no match for picking your own freshly grown tomato and taking a bite–it is quite possibly the best tomato flavor you can get.

Alan
Alan

J.D. – Recently, I completed a semester-long research project about vertical farming, a relatively new concept that involves erecting skyscraper farms in dense, urban cores. In my research I concluded that while the project seems sexy enough (reducing transportation costs and providing fresh food to the urban community, among other positives), it appears that more research is needed before we see vertical farms sprout up. Small, communal based initiatives currently seem more effective, more real. I’m curious to see how urban agriculture evolves as population pressures and food security issues intensify. Hopefully people will realize that eating fresh can benefit… Read more »

xysea
xysea

I know there are a lot of people out there with a frugal mindset like me, but I just wanted to say that I ended up changing my mind about this one aspect of my life.

I eat fresh because even though it costs a little more upfront, the long term benefits will save me health insurance premiums and miscellaneous costs in the long run. I look at it as a long-term investment program in myself.

I used to eat cheaply, but a lot of things that are cheap are not necessarily healthy for you.

honeybee
honeybee

Oh, this is so Portland. Not everything green happens in Portland first, but if it doesn’t, it usually happens there next.

Jax
Jax

JD-
I don’t mean to whine, but when are we getting a July gardening update? I am anxious to hear how well you have been doing.

Andrew
Andrew

xysea – sometimes you have to spend money to be frugal! The reason I asked my earlier question about the financial viability is because of some of the themes I’ve seen in this blog – saving, investing, scrimping where you can. I will be a lawyer soon, and I’m actively working to not get into the mindset where I feel I have to keep up with the others in terms of cars, watches, clothes, etc. (I’m fine with my Timex, Corolla and Costco dress pants.) This is something I would be interested in, since I enjoy gardening, but because of… Read more »

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me

Hey, J.D. – we are on the same wavelength recently. I’ve written about this a couple of times, most recently discussing the cherries we got from a neighbor down the street (yep, knocked on a stranger’s door, and we were followed the next day by another family picking more of the fruit). I called it “scavenging,” but gleaning is an excellent term. http://cheaplikeme.wordpress.com/2008/06/30/fruit-scavenging-cherries/ We’ve also picked up some apricots that are dropping off one neighbor’s tree onto another’s driveway. The driveway neighbors are friendly with us, and we picked up the apricots while they were away on vacation so they… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity

Since I noticed the wild grape vines at the back of the parking lot at work, I haven’t needed to buy jelly. There are dewberries in season, too, although not in jelly-making quantities (the grapes can’t be eaten straight, so there’s a lot less “shrinkage”).

Duncan Beevers
Duncan Beevers

A friend of mine built a great site http://urbanedibles.org/ that allows you to enter the locations of wild fruits in the city as well as to find and harvest these foods yourself.

Narinda
Narinda

There are huge rosemary plants growing around the patio of a cafe nearby and I snag a stalk or two every now and then. It’s lovely to find herbs and fruit around. I remember taking a walk with a friend I was visiting in Portland and finding blackberries growing in the neighborhood– magical. As a postage-stamp-size-apartment dweller without even a proper window-box, I’m jealous of those with any square footage at all and have definitely been fantasizing about guerrilla gardening. http://www.homegrownevolution.com is another great blog about small-scale farming in a small Los Angeles backyard.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Hi J.D., Last summer I noticed a neighbor’s tree dripping with plums. I proposed that if she let me have enough fruit to make some jam, I’d give her a jar of it. Her response was that she was glad SOMEONE wanted the fruit. That’s how I wound up with a lot of plum jam; some of it I ate, some I shared with my sister and a neighbor, and some of it I gave as gifts. I’m also a big fan of free Seattle blackberries — not only do they make wonderful jam, but they’re easy to freeze for… Read more »

A.B.
A.B.

Hi JD, I have to admit I am very jealous of your ability to grow fruits and veggies. I grew up in California and almost every plant and tree on our property was edible or fruit-bearing. I remember one summer where my mother was sitting on the side of the street with grocery bags full of peaches, offering them to anyone who walked by; that was after she filled two shelves of the freezer with preserves. I didn’t take advantage of the same ability when we lived in Portland, and now that we’ve moved to Las Vegas, I really see… Read more »

Rossco
Rossco

I have a question about the rights to street trees that have fruits and nuts. I have recently been challenged by a neighbor who thinks that we were stealing these from the property owner. We knocked on the property owners door multiple times, but there was no answer. We felt that these street trees (trees growing between the sidewalk and the street) were growing on public property and were for public harvesting. Please send a note to steer us in the right direction. Thanks for reading our dilema!

Lisa Donoghue
Lisa Donoghue

This is a fantastic idea. I’m forever buying fruit at the store when down the street there’s a home where the fruit is routinely left to fall on the floor and the local kids use them as missiles !

I’ll be knocking on the door to see if they’ll let me pick some. Rather eat it than run the risk of wearing it 🙂

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