Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumn Apples

For some reason apples are catching my eye. I’ll be driving or walking, and suddenly notice a tree heavy with yellow or red fruit. Sometimes these trees are in yards, and I glance wistfully at neglected windfalls in the grass, but often enough they are next to the railroad track, on the bank of a stream, at the edge of corporate parking lots—semi public spaces. Often enough, the trees are neglected, some so much in need of pruning that several of the fruit-laden branches have broken. The fruits are blemished and a little wormy, so I doubt they’ve been sprayed. These I brazenly pick to fill the canvas grocery bags I keep in my truck. I take them home, peel and core them, cutting out the bad parts. My goal is to fill my freezer with these forgotten fruits so I can fill my winter with pies. But lately I’ve been thinking of taking the next logical step—guerilla pruning. I hate to see the splintered branches dangling from the tree, ruined fruit and wilted leaves. What if these abandoned trees had a little care? Some of them are decorative crab apples gone rogue. Some probably sprouted from a discarded apple core from somebody’s lunch, or carried and discarded by a bird or a squirrel. All of them provide shade and nectar for the pollinators, but they could also provide food for whoever took the trouble to pick it. With a little pruning, the trees would be healthier, the fruit higher in quality.

And why not? Why don’t we have public plantings of food? In Barcelona, lime trees grow in some of the parks. My tree-lined route to campus through an alleyway sidewalk has not only flowering crabs, but some kind of small tree with blueberry-like fruit. I’d been eyeing it, wondering, until I finally came across a young woman quietly filling a basket with the fruit, her bicycle propped in the shade. A group of young men stopped to see what she was doing, and they all stood under the tree, reaching up to pick and taste the berries, chatting as they ate. I felt like I was witnessing the resurrection of a village commons—a fruit tree provides a harvest of fruit and as a bonus plants seeds for a tiny piece of community.

Seeing the young woman gleaning the trees, I knew I wasn’t the only one keeping an eye on the fruit. I did a little web search and found a couple of inspiring sites. One was The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, www.ftpf.org. It is a nonprofit charity with a mission toward ending world hunger with plantings of fruit trees. Their dream is just like mine, “We envision a place …where one can take a walk in the park during a lunch break, pick and eat a variety of delicious fruits, plant the seeds so others can eventually do the same and provide an alternative to buying environmentally-destructive, illness-causing, chemically-laden products.” They bring fruit to the classroom with their “Fruit Tree 101” educational program and fruit trees to the community in their “Communities Take Root” program. Both of these programs are sponsored by fruit companies partnering with the foundation. FTPF also gives away organic heirloom apple grow kits for a donation of $40 or more.

Another community building site focusing on fruit is Neighborhood Fruit, www.neighborhoodfruit.com. It allows you to map fruit trees on public land and helps connect owners of private fruit bounty with people who would like to share in the harvest. I found some interesting links on the site, including blogs (one described using abandoned shopping cars as movable planters—for vegetables or flowers.) and the Urban Forest Mapping Project. Both of these sites hold promise of community based in shared harvest.

I toss a pruning saw and some clippers in my truck with the canvas bags. In the next few weeks you might see me munching on fruit as I work. Maybe I’ll send the money I save on apples to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and get one of their heirloom apple planting kits in return. Maybe I’ll map some of my secret trees so others can share in the renegade pruning and bounty of pies.

Harvest Beauty; Prune in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in picking fruit and growing community. Some people say she makes a decent-enough apple pie.


  1. Great shadow pictures. The gold lighting is just right.

  2. Thanks, Mike. Yes, I love that time of evening. :)