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Urban Foraging: Finding What You Need to Eat in the Concrete Jungle

Updated on September 22, 2011

Summer in the Pacific Northwest is a provident season. Trees brim with cherries, apples, pears and plums, and vines laze over fences, clumps of blackberries getting juicier by the day. I walk through urban alleyways on my way to work, and have returned several times in the evening to pick these very same blackberries. Several times I have been rewarded with a couple of juicy plums or an apple hanging from tree limbs that dipped into the alley. I started wondering if one could truly get by in the summertime by foraging for fruits and vegetables, perhaps occasionally being the lucky recipient of eggs from a neighbor's chickens.

Urban foraging is not a new concept, but it has experienced an exponential growth in popularity over the past few years. Websites are sprouting up in almost every major city, and urban areas are actually taking positions on where and when urban foraging is allowed. There are a whole set of ethics (as there should be) surrounding what to take, where to take it from, and how much to take. As the recession has truly hit home in the past five years, tons of urban homes have been foreclosed upon leaving deserted urban yards with fruit trees and vegetable gardens available to foragers. Ironically, it is the displaced homeowners who now need to forage as they can't afford to buy produce in the market. Most foragers would tell you though that it is not appropriate (nor safe) to forage on private property without permission, be it abandoned or not, and that there are plenty of public places where foraging is safe and allowed. New York City is actually going to enforce a foraging ban in Central Park as they are worried about the impact upon the animal habitat that depend upon the same plants that humans are now foraging.

The solution to this problem in Portland, Oregon is a non-profit by the name of Urban Edibles. Through their website they provide information regarding edible and medicinal plants in the metropolitan area that are publicly accessible. If you subscribe to their website, you are updated via email about newly found plants/locations and by invitation to urbanites yards who are willing to have you pick whatever they are not using. They also have an incredibly handy map that pinpoints possible foraging locations. For example:

show route and directions
A marker8900 NE Vancouver Way, Portland, Or -
8900 NE Vancouver Way, Portland, OR 97211, USA
get directions

B marker28th and SE Ash -
SE 28th Ave & SE Ash St, Portland, OR 97214, USA
get directions

C marker9239 N. Seward Avenue, Portland, Oregon -
9239 N Seward Ave, Portland, OR 97217, USA
get directions

D markerN. Webster at Concord, Portand, Oregon -
N Concord Ave & N Webster St, Portland, OR 97217, USA
get directions

Fruits & Vegetables near N Webster at Concord I own this source, and I ask that you ask first for anything but the rosemary. Just be gentle with it. Submitted by Deb & CJ on 06/17/08 who says: "This is a special case, I have left more information in the comments."

Blackberry near 8900 NE Vancouver Way The bushes line the entire parking lot, pick after 6pm so you don't disturb or annoy the offices here. No one will bother you then.Submitted by gotta learn to can on 10/18/08 who says: "The status of this source is unknown. Ask before you pick!"Full-screen

Pear Tree near 28th and ash this tree is full! though it is in someones yard it is growing over the fence right over you as you walk by. Submitted by thinafaerie on 06/22/09 who says: "The status of this source is unknown. Ask before you pick!"

Plum Tree near 9239 N Seward Ave Tree is located in the backyard. Fruit ripens in late August/early September. Foragers are welcome, but please let us know who you are if we're home.Submitted by Rod & Susan on 02/15/10 who says: "I own this source and want to include it in the public database."

The above is just an example of the abundance of food available in the summertime in a city, and an example of the generosity of homeowners that don't want their gardens and orchards to go to waste. For that very reason, you should never take more than you need. You should also consider whether or not you are taking the food supply of wild critters that share your environment with you. In my very urban north Portland neighborhood I share space with raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, an enormous variety of birds, hedgehogs, possums and fox, not to mention all of the insects and bees that need to nourish themselves as well.

Sustainable harvesting protects the natural habitat and also allows other urban foragers to enjoy in the harvest. Now that summer's bounty is waning, remember that the animals that share your city with you, are also trying to save for the harsher months ahead and fuel their fat stores to hold them through these lean months. There are still foraging opportunities available though.


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    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 6 years ago from trailer in the country

      Great article...everytime my husband and I go for a drive, I have a look out for apple trees, and other fruit never know when you might need a quick supply of free food.

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 6 years ago

      Dolores, no peach tree should bend from such great weight. Good for you for relieving it of back pain!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I loved this one as I love free stuff. On a recent visit to a local nursing home, I spied a large peach tree in the court yard. The tree was bending from the weight of the peaches. I couldn't stand not taking some, but asked first.

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 6 years ago

      Just Pez, thank you. Urban foraging is really gaining ground in a lot of large cities. Atlanta, San Francisco, New York...these were just some of the cities that had active blogs/websites re foraging and where city officials had put some thought into how and where it ought to happen. Daisy, with the wilderness within arm's reach, I can see how you would call it subsistence living (it's kind of subsistence living for some people in cities too...). Jill, I'm just envious that you were on the beautiful Rogue River!!

    • Just Pez profile image

      Just Pez 6 years ago from Portland, OR

      This is great information! I wonder how common this is in cities beyond Portland. I have enjoyed some fantastic blackberries this summer a friend picked from behind her workplace in Milwaukie where blackberry bushes abound alongside the rail ties.

    • daisynicolas profile image

      daisynicolas 6 years ago from Alaska

      Good info. In Alaska, we call it subsistence living.

    • Jill Miceli profile image

      Jill Miceli 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I enjoy foraging when I'm out camping and this article reminded me of picking blackberries several weeks ago at The Valley of the Rogue State Park. This park sits right off I-5 in Oregon but runs along the beautiful Rogue River that has close to a mile of Blackberry bushes lining the river's edge. Yum!