Friday, November 14, 2008

Forage Oakland Manifesto

Forage Oakland is a project that- at its core- works to address how we eat everyday, and how everyone can benefit from viewing their neighborhood as a veritable edible map, considering what is cultivated in any given neighborhood and why, and what histories influence those choices. The gleaning of unharvested fruits; the meeting of new neighbors; the joy of the season's first hachiya persimmon (straight from your neighbor's backyard, no less); the gathering and redistribution of fruits that would otherwise be wasted- can be powerful and can work to create a new paradigm around how we presently think about food in our collective consciousness. Imagine gathering several friends for morning, midday, evening or weekend foraged city bicycle rides through your neighborhood. Rough maps are drawn, noting the forage-ables that can be found at each location and 'cold calls' are made to your neighbors asking if you can sample a fruit from their backyard tree. You have the courage to introduce yourself (despite the pervasiveness and acceptance of urban anomie) and they reward your neighborliness with a sample of Santa Rosa plums, for example. Later, when you find yourself with a surplus of Persian mulberries, you- in turn- deliver a small basket to said neighbor. With time and in this fashion, a community of people who care for and know one another is built, and rather than being the exception, this could be the norm. This is not idealistic, rather it is necessary, pragmatic, and creative-- especially in times when much of the world is suffering from lack of access to healthful and satisfying fresh food. Forage Oakland is a project that works to construct a new model-- and is one of many neighborhood projects that will eventually create a network of local resources that address the need and desire for neighborhoods to be more self-sustaining in meeting their food needs.

This project is about viewing food as a shared pleasure and a shared resource, redistributing it to those who will enjoy it. Invite your neighbors to exchange their surplus peaches for their neighbor's surplus blackberries. Fruit baskets are left on doorsteps: apples by the pound, Santa Rosa plums, sour cherries, persimmons, pineapple guava, and apricots. New associations are formed, and new geographies are created. The street corner where Ashby Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way meet is no longer marked by its corner store, rather it is defined by the prolific fig tree on the northeast corner. Encourage your neighbors to share their backyard bounty and barter what they don't intend to use. Hop on your bicycle and redistribute the surplus to another neighbor, making a note of the location of the harvested bounty. An edible landscape can be formed that is interactive, a bit different every day as fruit ripens and falls and as the seasons change. The barter can translate to other areas of urban living, and can create a community of people who'd rather do it for themselves and play an active role in their consumerism. When there are plums in your neighbor's backyard, enjoy them with your neighbor.


SustainElaine said...

This is a beautiful manifesto - elegant and pragmatic in its vision.

Donnalyn said...

Wow! I am totally amazed and touched by the simplicity and elegance of this idea. I rented a house on 57th and Shattuck and the yard had a huge lemon tree, loquat tree, two plumb trees, and a blackberry bramble. We could never eat all the yard provided and so we would give away most of it to neighborhood kids.

Esteban Bartlett said...

Bravo Asiya for this manifesto. It reminds me of the apple trees around Louisville that I forage from, and the talks I give to members of our community garden, declaring this space a commons where one and all can come to eat, even if they don't work there. Kids have taken to coming by during the harvests of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and figs, not to mention cherry tomatoes... This is a loving fight to defend the commons and our common humanity.
Makes me proud to have graduated from the same college in Ohio...

peace through justice and foraging and community gardening,

Stephen Bartlett
class of 80
Louisville, Ky

Ross said...

I love it! What a great idea...keep it up...

Nick said...

Fantastic, I have been doing this in Long Beach for some time and I am glad to see your vision. I grew up in Berkeley eating plums, blackberries and loequats as a kid so this brings back lots of good memories. Now its avocados, oranges and even the occasional papya down here in socal!


Patricia said...

Having heard about this last year, and read the NY Times article today, now I know why my persimmons disappeared every year -- not one would be left on a tree that was perhaps 1/8 over the street. I would come home from work in anticipation of picking (and using every last one) the crop and none would remain. For 30 years I have nurtured my yard. The tree died 2 years ago and we have planted a new Hachiya in its place and it is closer into the yard. If people want my fruit, they must ask permission -- I have seen my apricots and Meyer lemons disappear as well. I wonder now how my vegetables will fare. If no one is home -- do not pick! We use our fruit and I share it with our friends. Why not create signs that homeowners can post in the yard that grants permission or not. I understand the reason and I agree that much fruit goes to waste -- fine to forage in that case -- but who are you to judge that I don't care about my fruit? Ask first and respect homeowners when they say please do not pick the fruit! If one is not home, that does not grant you the right to pick. It costs money and lots of time in years (for us over 30 years) to nurture these trees and many of us do care about them.

Anna, The Lemon Lady said...


I love what you are doing in your local communities. You are a fantastic example for others to follow.

I have started The Lemon Lady project in Concord, Clayton, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill. I mostly donate to local food pantries, such as The Salvation Army, SHARE Food Pantry, The Monument Crisis Center, and the Food Bank of Contra Costa And Solano. All appreciate fresh fruit and can distribute on a larger level to those in need.

Perhaps friends you meet that cannot use and barter all the produce will consider donating to the Alameda County Food Bank or local food pantries too. Just an idea.

Keep up the great work.
Anna Chan, The Lemon Lady

I've collected over 8,000 pounds of local fruit in only 4 months, and now I collect truckloads from the Contra Costa Certified Farmers Markets in downtown Walnut Creek and Martinez.