Foraging in the foreclosed commons

Kim Severson, a journalist writing for The New York Times, has penned a provocative article entitled “At Vacant Homes, Foraging for Fruit” in the August 14, 2011 edition of the paper. Her musings on a new, “guerrilla-style harvest…taking shape” should interest readers of Discard Studies.

Severson writes about a local dog-walker, Kelly Callahan, who works in East Atlanta, one of many communites across the United States that have been hard-hit by bank foreclosures.  During one of her walks Kelly noticed that several abandoned yards were “peppered with overgrown gardens and big fruit trees.”

Applying the notion of the commons (see Garrett Hardin’s classic essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons“), Kelly began to forage in these yards and made good use of what were essentially high-quality discards going to waste (yes — we can hear John Locke rolling in his grave).  These untended fruits became jam that she donated to a cafe that serves the homeless.  According to Severson, in other states, foragers are mapping untended fruit trees and even “organizing picking parties.”

I should note that this is a peculiar form of foraging.   To forage, from the Old French “fourrage,” implies wandering or searching for food.  In this case, notions of private property, trespassing, the commons, waste, and altruism all intersect.