Urban Foraging

August 14th, 2009 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health


Hello there! What a beautiful summer day for a neighborhood stroll. This morning I grabbed my two boydogs, my little point-n-shoot, and some tupperware. My mission: free food from my very own cityscape. That’s right, Urban Foraging – an underground gathering technique akin to dumpster diving or guerrilla gardening.

But let’s be clear: there’s a big difference between foraging, and theft. And sometimes the line can be difficult to discern. I would never intentionally steal, so here are my three criteria for appropriate Urban Foraging.

1) It’s Clearly Unwanted


This pear tree was dropping it’s fruit all over the sidewalk, so there’s no way the owners wanted them all. A sloppy sidewalk is a great indication of abandoned booty. If it’s rotting on the ground, it’s likely fair game from the tree.


There were plenty of pears just perfect for the picking, but I only took a few. Try not to get too greedy, and you won’t piss anybody off.


2) It’s Not Clearly On Property


This blackberry bramble overhangs an old fence, into a graveled alleyway. I’ve been walking by it for weeks, just watching those berries ripen and multiply. As far as I can tell, nobody’s been collecting them. So I took it upon myself.


Berry-stained finger tips! I took plenty of berries, but not enough to even make a real dent. I would never pick a berry bush dry, even if it was obviously abandoned. That’s just not the way I roll, and it’s not good mojo for a forager. Leave enough for others, and you won’t piss anybody off.


3) If You’re Unsure, Always Ask


This plum tree was planted in the curbside strip, a common location for fruit trees (that’s where my cherry tree lives). There were no plums on the ground and the surrounding plants were well manicured, so I didn’t pick these plums. If you come across a situation like this, try to catch the resident out in the yard, and just give a holler. You could even knock on the door. Just ask if you can pick a few fruits – chances are they’ll be happy to share. But don’t just take, okay? That’s a surefire way to piss somebody off.

Alright guys, them’s the basics! Have fun harvesting, and remember to use your head! Don’t break any laws, don’t do anything that seems like stealing, and don’t piss anybody off, ha!


  • http://50in50.wordpress.com B.Rose

    I love this. I’m a BIG fan of urban foraging, and I’m glad you spoke the unspoken rules.

  • Lee Hoffman

    way to go

  • jan meulemans

    those berries look tasteful!

  • http://www.foodbank.com Jerry

    By “Urban Foraging” I first thought that the topic was social service feeding sources. I work for a food Bank and I know that there is no reason for anyone to go hungry in the U.S.. If one wanted, they could fill a truck up in a half a day with food that various urban feeding sites had to offer.

  • Staar

    I’m so excited that you did an article on this topic. It’s something I’ve been researching more and one book I’m reading right now, “The Urban Homestead” goes into this topic quite deeply. Something it brings out is foraging for “weeds” which is something I want to start trying. Many things we would normally pull out of our gardens and lawns and pitch into the compost are actually edible. Of course you need to be careful that you do not pick these weeds off of sprayed properties or places where the soil might be contaminated(ie gas station properties). Anyway ya thanks so much for writing this blog it’s a great resource. Keep up the good work!!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ B.Rose – Yeah, I realized that they needed to be said. i wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea! Is there much foraging in NY?

    @ Lee Hoffman – Thanks Lee!

    @ jan meulemans – They were SO good. Blackberries grow wild all over Portland, it’s so awesome. They make my oatmeal divine! =)

    @ Jerry – That’s really great to hear, thanks for the info!

    @ Staar – That sounds like a great book, and just up my alley. I want to learn all the edible greens/weeds. It seems like such a waste of so much food! And I just love the idea of eating big, diverse, tasty free salads every night. =D

  • Uncle B

    With the advent of new Asian high-efficiency factories, great parts of the American population have been rendered unemployable – different than unemployed! by a great deal! Bred by random perchance events, and floating in society mostly under-educated and no likely educable, due mostly to genetic circumstance, and locked into the “American dream” by the advertising propagandists spiel, Lost to a world of part-time work and frivolous sexual encounters for entertainments sake or accommodation of the new philosophies, not able to understand nor create family, and not embraced by one either, these gentle souls doped and boozed, undernourished, both body and soul, squeak by, dumpster diving, panhandling, prostituting, buggered by the system, on little or less while the affluent arrogant and entitled, fat asses getting bigger by the day holiday in Europe or better, not ever even seeing their victims of circumstance, the lesser of the patriots, the smaller poorer beings, camouflaged by Capitalisms flourish as those who did not try hard enough to succeed, or painted in derrogatory way by whatever brush, at hand. In America! Land of equal opportunity! Land of Freedom from class, color, origins? How can this be? Are we lied to? Deluded? Can we possibly be wrong? Why won’t Southern Koreans among many hungry countries eat the food we produce? What is it they fear? Out Fattened, miss shaped, Asses? our prematurely mature daughters? our overtly aggressive natures? What is it these GMO’s have done to us! Is it our “Dumpster Divers” they fear? Are we not perfect, all others inferior? Is this not written, “We are the Chosen People?” All others inferior and deserving of their ignoble fate? Of “Low Birth”? How can it be, in our perfection, some forage for food in our table scraps? Begone with them, I command! This is America! They cannot possibly be of the “Master Race” The bringers of great freedoms to other nations, the bearers of the torch of the perfection called “Democracy’ this is a sacrilege, Forbidden! Off with their heads! I say! Off with their heads! Send them home to collect stock dividends! In America! Land of Princes and Princesses! Indeed! Give them jobs on the production lines at GM! Let them work for a living! Goddammit!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Uncle B – I don’t really know what to say except – eh? (in other words, I don’t follow you)

  • http://www.uBuilderPlans.com Farmfresh

    I am so glad to find yet another urbanite that really knows how to live! Your rules for urban foraging are very timely as more and more Americans find themselves out gleaning to help ends meet. I too am trying to encourage more and more people with my website uBuilderPlans.com, to undertake growing their own food and keeping backyard animals to supplement their larder and their lives. Congratulations on a nice little blog!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Farmfresh – Thanks! And yay, urban adventurers unite!

  • Dan from Southampton, UK

    Hi Sayward,

    I was particularly taken with this blog – the very idea of free, seasonal and nutritious food! In my area (Central South UK)there are a few co-operatives who are trying to create “Fruit and Nut tree” maps. Maps of all the fruit and nut trees and bushes on public land for exactly this purpose. Just thought I’d share the idea.

    Keep up the great work!



  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    @ Dan from Southampton, UK – I love the map idea! I’ve totally wanted to do that for Portland! =D

  • Dan from Southampton, UK

    @Sayward Then just do it :o) – put your favorite places down on a map and share it with your friends, encourage them to do the same and before long you should have a pretty conclusive map! Good luck!

  • Kathryn

    Love this!! We have become good friends with our neighbors and the bonus is that they have 6 apple trees. I always get a knock on the door when they are ready to pick. It has also become a fun activity for my kids.

  • Pingback: A Year Of Urban Foraging | Bonzai Aphrodite

  • https://twitter.com/Peterson_Rach Rachel

    Great tips! Love it!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thanks Rachel!