Urban Foraging

Pear tree urban foraging in Chicago.png

Recently while grocery shopping I came across a homeless man who was foraging, for lack of a better term, in the produce section of the grocery store. Soon I was following the man as he walked around and ate, heartily, from the displays of fruits and vegetables. Other people in the store didn't register him and those that did, recoiled in disgust at his antics. After what seemed like an eternity I was watching him evade the store's security who must have been summoned by an unhappy customer and eventually get taken down.

A few days later while walking the neighborhood I couldn't stop thinking about the homeless man and what it must be like for the world to be your personal farm. Then I remembered that I'd had a period of my life where the world was my personal farm, it was my childhood. Right at the moment that it dawned on me that I'd been there before my arm shot up over my head and inexplicably reached for something that wasn't there. I came to a complete stop in front of a neighbor's house and looked around me trying to figure out what had just happened. As I was looking around I realized the front yard I was standing in front of was missing trees...apple trees...to be exact...four of them.

Memories of standing in that very spot and jumping up to reach the apples that hung from the branches that grew over the sidewalk came flooding back. Soon I was walking around the block in search of the mulberry tree we gathered under to shake the branches and catch berries.Those harvest would always eventually deteriorate into full-on mulberry wars where several kids would end up walking home crying and stained beyond recognition. Gone from the neighborhood are; cherry trees, various pear trees, blueberry bushes and crab apples of my youth. Where did they go? Who knows for sure. I suspect they were cut down when many of the properties around here changed hands and several of the older people moved out. Perhaps, the new owners were not so fond of the idea of strange neighborhood kids climbing fences or trespassing to get to a handful of mulberries or a couple of pears, and so they cut them down to remove all temptation.

The urban orchard that once grew in my corner of Chicago is now gone. I can't believe I didn't notice when it happened. I probably didn't notice the trees were being cut down because it occurred during those years of transition in life. That handful of odd years when you go from being a kid to turning into a young adult and everything is cause for embarrassment and being seen picking fruit from a tree on the street would've been social death. The one tree that remains from that period is an old pear tree that lately holds more birds than pears and he looks like he's on his last legs. While looking around for the fruiting trees of my youth I spotted many saplings in backyards. They give me hope that one day the kids around here will be darting home, the front of their t-shirts heavy with fruit, calling out to mom and stopping just long enough to unload the harvest on the kitchen table before running off and disappearing into the neighborhood.

Until then I'll be reacquainting myself with the liberty afforded by youth and collecting some pears from my old friend this summer. You should do the same, well, not with my pear tree but with fruiting trees in your own neighborhood. If you don't have any growing on old homes or in public areas share something from your garden with a neighbor who does.

Comments

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  • Do kids in your neighborhood even play outside any more? The ones here don't seem to. It's sad. Loved the article, btw.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Garden Faerie,

    Surprisingly, they do. Last night during a late night run to McD's I spotted about 12 kids riding their bikes. Haven't seen that in years around here. Brought back memories of late night bike rides around the neighborhood during the summer.

    Can I get a mulligan and be a kid again?

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    Of course. What's so fun about being a grown-up?! LOL! My mother is 77 (and a big gardener) and says she still doesn't feel "grown up." :)

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Garden Faerie,

    You know, I don't really feel like a grown up even though I'm 31 now. I always imagined this goofiness of mine would somehow dissipate when I hit 30, but it hasn't. Hope I feel like your mom when I'm 77.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I'm a transplant from Iroquois County myself, so there was a lot to forage in farmland. We regular hunted wild asparagus along the dirt roads. There was a tiny plot of wild strawberries between our windbreak and the next field. And up the hill there was an abandoned churchyard, no buildings just the old trees which included cherries I think, and lilac bushes. My dad used to go morel picking too, but I was not that adept.

    This weekend my husband and I are moving to Oak Park and I think our neighbor has a white cherry tree that hangs over into our backyard... woohoo!

  • In reply to hawk3ye:

    Thanks for sharing your memories of foraging for food. Congrats on the move and the free cherries. :0)

  • In reply to hawk3ye:

    hey Mr Brown Thumb: I am happy to tell you that you are wrong, there is still quite a bit of urban foraging to be done. There are wild plum trees at the Magic Hedge (along with a few sad peach trees) and there are walnut trees all over the city, and just last Saturday I munched on yummy mullberries in Lincoln Park, spitting distance from the Green City Market (and mine were free!) My buddy John went foraging in Columbus Park a few weeks back and scored three types of berries, all which he made into jam.

    Nance Klehm leads urban foraging walks seasonally. I know she can be kind of cranky but the one I went on at the Magic Hedge was mind-blowing. Tons of elderberries, all kinds of stuff. (Who knew you could make a tart drink from Sumac flowers?)

    If you ever want to meet at the Magic Hedge, I can point some of the stuff out, I still have my notes from last fall's walk.

    Bonnie (we met at the bee workshop with Alan Molumby!)

  • In reply to wordparty:

    Hi Bonnie,

    Thanks for signing up and commenting. I was only referring to my neighborhood when talking about how little there was to forage in comparison to what it was like when I was a kid.

    I'll be in touch.

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    oooh sorry, see what happens when I speed read at work! ;)

    Hope to see you out and about and if you're in the Lurie Garden on a Thursday, be sure to stop by and say hello!

    Bonnie

  • In reply to wordparty:

    No worries Bonnie. I'm sure I'll see you soon.

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    Love this post. In the Wicker Park neighborhood, I still see a few fruit trees around in public spaces -- mostly pear trees. I actually have a beautiful apple tree right in my backyard. When the fruit ripens in fall, I make big bag of apples to share with neighbors because I couldn't possibly use all of them.

  • In reply to caitlingiles:

    That's awesome that you're sharing with the neighbors. I was given some grape starts the other day that I'm going to plant for the fruit co-op I'm thinking of starting up with the neighbors.

  • In reply to hawk3ye:

    hey Mr Brown Thumb: I am happy to tell you that you are wrong, there is still quite a bit of urban foraging to be done. There are wild plum trees at the Magic Hedge (along with a few sad peach trees) and there are walnut trees all over the city, and just last Saturday I munched on yummy mullberries in Lincoln Park, spitting distance from the Green City Market (and mine were free!) My buddy John went foraging in Columbus Park a few weeks back and scored three types of berries, all which he made into jam.

    Nance Klehm leads urban foraging walks seasonally. I know she can be kind of cranky but the one I went on at the Magic Hedge was mind-blowing. Tons of elderberries, all kinds of stuff. (Who knew you could make a tart drink from Sumac flowers?)

    If you ever want to meet at the Magic Hedge, I can point some of the stuff out, I still have my notes from last fall's walk.

    Bonnie (we met at the bee workshop with Alan Molumby!)

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I like your new blog, MBT. The registration thing was a bit different from the usual anonymity. Anyway, it seems as though summertime is perfect for reminiscing. Your post about the fruit brought to mind my foraging as a kid along the neighbor's fence line looking for ripe blackberries. I did this on the way to fish in his pond. Guilty pleasures! Really, though, I did ask permission to go fishing. And the blackberries were going to waste. Honest!

  • In reply to walk2write:

    Hi Walk2Write,

    I appreciate you creating an account just to comment here. I know it is different than what we're accustomed to on Blogger, but once this website is out of Beta there should be some neat interactive features that make creating an account necessary.

    Anyway, thanks for visiting and thanks for creating an account to be able to leave a comment to share your memory of foraging.

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