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There's A Map Of Where To Forage For Dumpster Bagels, Falling Fruit & More

By Janet Rausa Fuller | December 2, 2016 5:54am | Updated on December 2, 2016 12:16pm
 The Falling Fruit website shows prime foraging spots around Chicago — and they're not just in the forest preserve.
The Falling Fruit website shows prime foraging spots around Chicago — and they're not just in the forest preserve.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

CHICAGO — Want to know where on the South Side to forage for ramps when spring comes?

A prime spot to pick hawthorn berries right now in Andersonville?

Or which grocery stores and restaurants are especially good for dumpster diving?

There’s a map — and an app — for that. It's called Fallingfruit.org.

Started in 2013 by two Colorado data scientists as a way for them to keep track of the bounty in their own backyards, the open-source website has grown to include more than 1.2 million locations across six continents. There are nearly 1,800 types of mostly edible plants, plus fruitful (so to speak) foraging spots for Freegans, such as dumpsters.

Hear Janet talk about the map and the city's warning to users.

Each location is represented by a dot on the map. Zoom in, click on a dot, and you’ll see the common scientific name if it’s a plant, its season, yield level, whether it’s on public or private land, and in some cases, a photo.

There are about 4,000 dots in the Chicago area. The database is open for anyone to go in and add their finds.

For instance, someone has spotted a "very good" hawthorn tree full of bright red edible berries in the corner of a parking lot at Foster and Glenwood. Not far away, on Ashland Avenue, there's a pear tree that seems to be overlooked.

In Lincoln Park's North/Clybourn retail area, the dumpsters behind Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and NYC Bagel Deli are apparent treasure troves of baked goods.

And ringing Rosehill Cemetery north of Peterson, a user named KatLuvver has identified a couple of mulberry trees, two “giant” apple trees, three serviceberry trees "in the Target parking lot!” and non-fruiting grapevines.

“The leaves are edible and best in spring,” KatLuvver wrote of the grapevines lining the cemetery fence on the western edge.

Serviceberries, if you’re wondering, taste “like a blueberry with an almond flavor. They’re great for pies,” said Ethan Welty, 29, one of Falling Fruit’s founders.

“We’re trying to expand the idea of what’s considered edible,” said Welty, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado studying glaciers. "We’re trying to say, 'Hey city folks, keep your eyes open to what might be around you.' You can blow people’s minds pretty easily just foraging for apples and pears and cherries around town."

But you can’t forage willy-nilly, at least not in Chicago.

Harvesting anything growing on public land is considered damage to public property, according to a spokesman for the city’s Law Department. 

That even goes for, say, an apple tree in someone's yard with fruit-laden branches spilling over onto the alley or sidewalk. Picking them would be considered misdemeanor theft, according to the Law Department.

It's illegal on Cook County Forest Preserve property, too. Get caught and you could get fined up to $500. (Too bad — those ramps, along with prized chanterelle mushrooms, sprout up deep in the Dan Ryan Woods in the spring, according to the map).

Private property is off limits, unless it’s yours or the owner has given you permission.

What to do? Users of the map say be discreet.

Or if your neighbor's apple tree is too enticing, just try asking, Welty said.

“It’s all about engaging with neighbors in a respectful way,” he said. "It’s totally reasonable to have an interest in something like free food, especially when very often it’s going to waste, whether it’s on private or public land.

“And if it’s on private property, don’t be scared to ask questions and have conversations with your neighbors."

While Welty and Caleb Phillips, both residents of Boulder, Colo., started Falling Fruit strictly to map edible plants for fellow foragers, it has grown to be a resource for data and nature geeks, with details on non-fruiting trees (onto which one could graft an edible variety, thus turning it into a fruit tree, Welty said) and pollinating sources for honeybees.

They launched the companion app last year with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. Sales of the app, which costs $3.99, help pay for maintaining the server and nonprofit expenses. Falling Fruit is a nonprofit.

They also helped start the Community Fruit Rescue, which organizes neighborhood harvests in Boulder, where it’s perfectly OK to pick fruit on public land. The bounty gets divvied up among the pickers and places like food banks and shelters.

Welty said he is refining the map so people can further filter their searches and researching the possibility of showing what’s ripe for the picking in real time.

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