"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Harvest Ethics (Am I a Thief?)

Returning from Tucson at the beginning of the week, I found that the High Harvest has definitely begun, as signaled by the traditional anonymous box of squash left on the front porch. Last night's dinner was squash fritters topped with goat cheese. Now there are only six big zucchini left to deal with (until the next influx, anyway).  I will probably do what I did last year and bake a bunch of zucchini bread for the freezer. I defrosted the last of last year's zucchini loaves a few days ago, and it was in perfect condition. The trick is to wrap the loaf tightly in aluminum foil and then place in a ziploc bag. There are still a few cups of organic pecans in the cupboard leftover from a trade several weeks ago, and the zucchini bread plan will use those up as well.

Pickling cucumbers have appeared in the stores, and so I made a bunch of pickles. Four pints of bread and butter canned pickles, which are not my favorite but beloved by Paloma and my mom. I also started a big jar of lacto-fermented dills - but without any dill! I have yet to find any dill weed. I just used plenty of garlic, red pepper flakes, and a whole bunch of grape leaves to stop the pickles from getting soft. My children were aghast when I spotted an enormous grapevine growing up into the trees on the side of the road and pulled over to pick some leaves.

"Mom! You don't know who those belong to!"

"Nobody cares if I pick a handful of leaves off this vine, honey, it's gigantic. Besides, nobody can see me behind the trees."

"MOM!!! You're a THIEF!"

"Oh, relax, if anybody comes out I'll ask them nicely. It's not like I'm taking the grapes."

I also take apples and plums off of abandoned roadside trees. And the sour cherries off those branches of my neighbor's trees that hang over the fence onto my property. I'm unrepentant. Everybody knows that the fruit hanging in your airspace is fair game. As is the fruit off any tree growing in the ditch beside the road if there's no house in hailing/waving distance.

In Seattle, I had a beautiful young Bing cherry tree that I planted in the front yard, which was unfenced. I didn't mind if passersby took a small handful of cherries as they walked by - the temptation was strong - but I did draw the line when I saw people bringing bags and picking into the bag without asking. Once I actually caught a couple of young men UP IN THE BRANCHES, picking all the cherries they could and stuffing their shirtfronts. I yelled at those guys.

In apple season, I often cruise around looking for trees. I like to make apple cider and it takes a LOT of apples. As I said above, if the tree is not within sight of a house, I consider it free fruit. If it is in someone's yard or planted on the road near the driveway, I will knock and ask before taking any fruit. Oh - and obviously I only do that if I see that the apples are falling on the ground and not being picked up. If there are no apples on the ground I figure the owner is using the fruit. And if the owner says "yes, by all means, take all the fruit you like" I always offer back some cider or applesauce in return. I have some elderly neighbors who offered me all the apples I want in exchange for cleaning up the windfalls.

I truly believe I am acting well within the social norms of my region, but I'm very curious to hear what people from other parts of the country say. Am I a thief? Do you have to hike up a quarter mile driveway and knock before you take a handful of grape leaves? When is a tree abandoned? Is it open season on vacant lot trees? Can you strip them bare or is it good form to leave some fruit for the next person? Tell me in the comments.


Anubis Bard said...

I wouldn't say you're a thief. Roadside trees are fine, clearly. But we have a property that used to have tons of blueberries on it. None of us really lived nearby, and some years the berries were left to the birds and bears. But some years we would go berry picking and whenever we found that someone had already raided them - thinking it was the wild woods as one interloper said when we caught them blue-handed - we were morally outraged.

Aimee said...

Ha! Eventually I put a sign in my cherry tree saying to take a few but please leave the rest.

HelenB said...

My vote is with you. No, the activity you've described doesn't make you a thief.