Hungry? September is the time of year when an unlikely harvest hits its peak here in Portland. While tourists and foodies seek out the perfect peach or pear in agricultural meccas like Hood River’s Fruit Loop, locals are making sweet finds right along many of the city’s streets. The richness is everywhere. Blackberry bushes crouch along the banks of the Willamette River and cling to the steep streets of council crest, exploding with fruit for anyone brave enough to reach into their thorny vines. Fig trees, apple trees and plum trees hang over sidewalks and sprout in empty lots, growing pecks of unwanted fruit just waiting to be picked. Indeed, if you know where to look, you can even find just about everything, from kiwi to quince, starfruit to saskatoons.
Finding the goods is made easier by Urban Edibles, an online directory of over 400 spots here in the city where an enterprising scavenger can forage more than 58 varieties of fruits and vegetables. They also have a handy introduction to the ethics of public picking: always ask permission for plants on private property, and only take what you need. Those rules, and a little common courtesy, go a long way toward avoiding this kind of situation. Most of the time, owners are more than happy to share fruit that would otherwise rot in their yard.
Even if you don’t aspire to become a freegan there’s a certain pleasure in finding fresh food along an otherwise ordinary urban street. It’s the reminder that even here, tucked in among the concrete and steel, nature is growing, sprouting, sustaining. From my own modest harvesting-a few liters of finger-staining blackberries to tart up bowls of breakfast cereal and ice cream-I can claim no deep connection to the land, like a real farmer might. But learning where the sweet and wild things grow does help me to get know my own backyard better, and maybe care a little more about the the condition of this place that I call home.