There’s free food everywhere, if you know where to look. Falling Fruit, which maps publicly available produce in several countries, lists 554 edible varieties (mostly plants) in 570,000 locations. It’s mostly stuff that currently goes to waste, like fruit that drops into streets, only to get mashed into concrete.
Most of the locations on Falling Fruit’s map are single trees (including some on private property, where asking the owner is advised) or small community spaces. But foraging is gaining scale all the time. Several places are planting dedicated forests for public use.
Look at Seattle’s embryonic Beacon Food Forest. Set to become the nation’s largest forageable space, it will cover seven acres within city limits, offering everything from plum, apple, and walnut trees, to berry bushes, herbs and vegetables. The goal is to recreate the ecosystem of a real forest with food-bearing varieties at different heights.
The community group behind the project has planted about 35 trees so far, and also completed a lot of landscaping and irrigation work, according to Glenn Herlihy, one of the creators. He expects the space to open later this summer, and to start producing food next year, beginning with herbs, vegetables, and annuals.
The forest will include a teaching space, conventional community gardening plots, a barbecue spot, and recreational areas. Since it’s a community project, it has to cater to many groups.
Herlihy hopes visitors will practice "ethical harvesting"—taking what they need, or what they can eat right away. But for those feeling greedy, there will be a "thieves garden" containing lower-grade stuff. "We also plan to have a lot of people around, so you’re not going to feel comfortable taking a lot of stuff," he adds.
Beacon is using land donated by Seattle Public Utilities, and has a $100,000 grant from the city. Herlihy says the forest could eventually produce "quite a bit of food," and he hopes it will be a place where the community can come together.
"People are learning where they can find food about the place," he says, referring to foraging in general. "That’s a good thing. Better that than it going to waste."
Falling Fruit’s founders, Caleb Phillips and Ethan Welty, see foraging as more than just another source of food. "Foraging in the 21st century is an opportunity for urban exploration, to fight the scourge of stained sidewalks, and to reconnect with the botanical origins of food," they say, at their website.