Renting in a metropolis means never knowing what might show up on your curb free for the taking, an antique table, a futon, a slightly used set of dishes. The possibilities are endless.
But have you ever looked up to see what’s available?
Coined “urban foraging” or “gleaning,” the practice of finding foods growing in nature (or left discarded in dumpsters) has been blossoming in popularity. The movement has sprouted everything from workshops, to books, to websites dedicated to such urban expeditions.
Don’t think there is anything good to harvest in your own urban jungle? Think again.
The website, fallingfruit.org shows budding foragers the locations of more than 1,255 different types of edibles distributed across more than 787,000 sites worldwide.
Need a Meyer lemon in San Francisco? Head to the Mission District and you’ll see the yellow delights hanging around at 20th Street and South Van Ness Avenue. Craving a persimmon in Manhattan? Take a walk over to the Lennox Hill neighborhood and you’ll find such a tree at Park Avenue between East 63rd and East 62nd Streets.
Caleb Phillips, the co-founder of FallingFruit began mapping the location of fruit trees found in urban environments in 2008 as part of a university assignment.
A passionate urban forager himself, the Northwest native found that people around him were often bewildered when he would pick and eat cherries from trees around Boulder, Colorado.
“People would be really concerned for me and I’d have to tell them, this is a cherry tree, they are okay to eat,” he recalled.
The experience motivated him to continue identifying and mapping urban edibles as a way to educate people about the culinary bounty that can be found right on their own streets.
Pairing up with fellow forager and data aficionado Ethan Welty, the pair launched fallingfruit in March of 2013, gathering data from a number of different public and nonprofit sources.
Shortly after the site went live, calls and emails came in from people as far away as Israel, Brazil and India, who wanted to use the map too.
“We clearly made the right thing at the right time,” Phillips said. “It touches on something in the common conscious, there is all this food around going unused, maybe we can make better use of it.“
The site was made open, allowing anyone, anywhere the ability to add locations of edibles. People have even started adding expanded categories to the map, like fishing holes, community gardens and honeybee foraging.
“There are all sorts of things on the map, secret Easter eggs,” Phillips said.
There is even a separate map of diveable dumpsters along with handy notes from users, like this one: “Lucky’s: Trash is located in front of lower level parking area. Found large amount of bread products and a pumpkin.”
For the majority of foragers, it’s more of a hobby as opposed to their only way of getting food. As Phillips puts it, “most people aren’t foraging for subsistence between shifts at their startup in San Francisco.”
But foraging can do more than just provide a way to pass time or acquire a tasty snack, Phillips says it can help individuals reconnect with the origin of their foods.
“People are detached from their food source. It adds direct value when you go pick it yourself. It brings joy and reconnects people. Our key motivation is to give people access.”