Harvesting Wild Fruit

Take a walk on the wild side and scope your neighborhood for food!

by Rick Gush

Photo by Rick Gush

One of my passionfruits I harvested from a vine I trained to grow on my driveway fence.

To many people, harvesting wild fruit might imply walks in the forest to collect wild raspberries; to an urban farmer, harvesting wild fruit means finding seeded jewels growing right in the middle of the urban/suburban jungle. These crops are bigger and more diverse than the ones found in the hills.

One of my friends, a professor of agricultural ecology, often promotes “agro-forestry,” in which forests are specifically cultivated in a manner that yields edible products without classical agricultural cultivation. The trick is to select naturally growing species that are favored in a forestry maintenance program.

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I’m doing something similar with the passionfruit vine that was once part of the wild “jungle” growing along a small creek next to my driveway. I’ve trained it to grow up along the fence and rip away the Boston ivy competition whenever it sends shoots into the fence area. Shown above is one of the passionfruits I harvested from this “volunteer” vine. Now, I have a very healthy, feral passionfruit vine that produces fruits that I really enjoy eating.

As far as I can see, this is urban agro-forestry.

Another way to harvest wild fruit is to find fruit-bearing landscape plants that are not harvested by the owners. These plants can be found in abandoned places — hanging over a wall or somebody’s front yard. Owners of these plants will often give you permission to harvest the fruit.

The amount of unharvested fruit in the suburbs is huge, especially the amount of olives that drop to the sidewalks in the Southwestern United States. Unharvested fruit on municipal urban trees is also surprisingly big, as well.

Urban areas offer a massive quantity of weedy berry vines. An hour’s walk around just about any metropolitan area will yield a number of potential fruit-collecting sites.

I used to live in Las Vegas, Nev., which has a high Mormon population. Mormons, known to be good farmers and food preservers, often build food reserves. That agricultural heritage is disappearing though, and many of the younger Mormons aren’t familiar with basic agriculture.

I once organized an urban fruit harvesting and canning group for young Mormons, where we all ran around the older neighborhoods harvesting plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines on trees belonging to owners who didn’t want to be bothered to harvest them.

We harvested a ton of fruit and canned a lot of jams and preserved fruits. We even made some delicious fruit juices. The young Mormons thoroughly enjoyed the activity, and it was obviously a fun experience for them.

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