Create Community with Fruit

It’s pretty amazing that fruit has the power to create community when presented to the population properly. The same fruit most people walk by and never notice, let alone eat. (Editor’s Note)

The most ancient forms of communion among people came through food. Hunters and gatherers banded together for survival, and gatherers became farmers; farming laid the ground for human’s connections to the earth and farms became the first communities. The social exchange of food forms the basis of the culture. Among all the foods, fruit holds a special place as a symbol of bounty. Signifying fertility, beauty, and hospitality, fruit is grown everywhere that people live, which is perhaps why of all foods we most like to give fruit as a gift. The gift model, giving without expectation of return, forms the basis and connecting thread of Fallen Fruit’s work.

An activist art project founded by David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, Fallen Fruit started as a mapping of all the public fruit in our Los Angeles neighborhood, Silver Lake. We encourage everyone to harvest, map, plant, and sample public fruit, which is what we call all fruit on or overhanging public spaces such as sidewalks, streets, or parking lots. We believe fruit in public space is a resource that should be commonly shared, like shells from the beach or mushrooms from the forest. Fruit is universal and uniquely democratic, crossing all classes as a symbol of generosity and bounty. It is a healthy food, unrefined and unprocessed; eaten virtually off the tree, it symbolizes the uncomplicated goodness of nature, beauty, fertility, and hospitality, not the excess or waste of commercial or
industrial culture.

Public Bananas: Street Fruit is Organic (Fallen Fruit)

Harvesting Public Bananas (Courtesy of Fallen Fruit)

We’re intrigued by the status of fruit hanging from a tree in public space. Los Angeles is a city of moderate density spread over a large area peppered with lawns, shrubs, trees, and even survivors of long-gone fruit orchards and public fruit is found on almost every block. Bananas, peaches, avocados, lemons, oranges, limes, kumquats, loquats, apples, plums, passion fruits, walnuts, pomegranates, guavas, and more grow year round in every neighborhood in the city.

Urban public fruit, whether deliberate or accidental, is more efficient to grow than farmed fruit because it eliminates the cost of transport. Since it is not a mono crop, as in an orchard of a single variety of apple, there are fewer pests and less chemicals required to treat them. A further irony is that most public fruit in Los Angeles is organic, blessed by neglect.

We began mapping the public fruit in our neighborhood, just the triangle between our three houses. We appear in our first images wearing plastic suits and rubber gloves as if we’d fallen to earth from another world and began by investigating what there was to eat. The conceit was to make ourselves look unnatural, wrapping ourselves instead of the fruit in plastic, which is how fruit increasingly appears to us in the world. Perhaps a bit of our own alienation manifests itself in these images. We coined the term “public fruit” as it expressed the way in which a certain public or communal or shared quality was lacking in these streets.

Overlaid with our fascination with space is our interest in fruit. Three forms of fruit presented themselves very quickly: the private, the public, and the fallen fruit — no one’s fruit, the waste of fruit. Whose banana is this, we began to wonder, this banana that presented itself at arm’s length on a city sidewalk? Certain residents prune their fruit tree’s branches at the very edge of their property, and not an inch further, while others clearly let their trees spill into the public sphere. As we came to know neighborhoods and spoke to people who lived there we learned that some residents were indeed inviting strangers to pick. Their generosity is a grassroots model for alternative thinking about public space, property, and resources.

An outgrowth of our maps and public urban plantings, we regularly stage Public Fruit Jams, inviting the public to join us in making communal jam. The Public Fruit Jam is our favorite public project because it forms dynamic temporary communities. Since its beginnings, it was always considered an experiment in public participation and social relations.

Public Fruit Jams: Social Events that Create Community

Public Fruit Jams: Social Events that Create Community (Courtesy of Fallen Fruit)

The jam is a classic collaboration. The ingredients can be anything the participants bring, as well as fruit from the communal table. Funded by arts grants and taking place mostly in galleries and museums, these free events bring strangers together around a table to cook. The fruit is picked from the streets or grown at home, though participants with store-bought fruit are not turned away. We don’t use recipes, just simple proportions, and the jams are negotiations among each group of three to six people. Collaborative and experimental, the process echoes ancient rituals of communal food preparation in contrast to the anonymity of contemporary urban life. Unusual jams are more tempting than the kinds you see in a store: apple pumpkin jam or quince and pear with lavender. (Almost any fruits can be jammed, even bananas if you dare.)

Urban fruit is blessed by neglect, almost always untended and thus organic; it is like the electric wires or the water systems underground, a layer of urban infrastructure that could be utilized far more than it is. Many people are uncertain about its basic edibility. They don’t need to worry; it is entirely safe to eat. Even automobile soot simply wipes off. It’s essentially organic status, never sprayed or fertilized, often barely watered, is striking to the health-conscious consumer. In a playful way, it starts a conversation on our relationship to the natural world, and to each other.

What’s Fallen Fruit Doing Now?

Find out on their website: www.FallenFruit.org. No doubt, they’re plotting this year’s Public Fruit Jam, or perhaps a new Endless Orchard installation somewhere. Those projects are popping up like rabbits here and there around the world.

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