What Is Urban Foraging?

Urban landscapes are full of fruit trees. Why let that fruit go to waste?. bwc/flickr

In the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a sweet canopy of ambrosia hovers over the landscape — fresh grapefruits, lemons, avocados, bananas, loquats, tangerines, oranges, figs and walnuts — yet much of it goes uneaten. Now, an initiative called Fallen Fruit is proposing to reduce waste and educate city residents about the incredible resources around them. For local artist-activists Austin Young, Dave Burns and Matias Viegener, the uneaten fruit was a symbol of many things that were wrong in their city: hunger, pollution and social alienation. As founders of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, they were looking for creative, positive solutions. “We all have fruit trees and we share the fruit with our friends and neighbors,” says Burns. “So it was pretty natural for us to start mapping and taking photographs of them.”

“L.A. has a lot of green, but people don’t often register how much of it is fruit-bearing,” says Viegener. Part art project, part social service, Fallen Fruit is a plan for a better community — one where neighbors can interact, people can travel by foot and the Meyer lemons are free for the taking. Since last year, the group has created four maps of the city’s fruit trees and posted them on the website, fallenfruit.org. They are currently distributing them at homeless shelters and other locations across the city. They have also partnered with a local organization, the Bicycle Kitchen, which will lead nighttime bike tours on fruit routes.

Another aim is to inspire people to grow more fruit trees. Their design for a public fruit park called Endless Orchard was chosen as a finalist for a proposed development at the Civic Center Mall in downtown L.A. Other future plans include fruit swap events and a silent film documenting the project.

The beauty of the idea, says Young, is its inclusiveness. “People really like the simplicity of the project. We hope to change people’s minds — and spread the wonder of fruit.”

Story by Elisa Ludwig. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2006. The story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2006.