urban blackberrying

blackberry arbor, SE Portland

Last weekend I went blackberrying . . . a few blocks down the street. The first rule of blackberrying, of course, is that the sweetest, ripest, biggest ones are always out of reach. So the first berry patch I came to teased me from overhead with vines so lush they stained the sidewalk under my feet. But I couldn't reach them without a ladder as they were overhanging someone's old garage, so I moved along down into the industrial area between Powell and the train tracks to a patch growing beside a telephone pole between sidewalk and street. It was a Sunday evening, so businesses were closed and cars were few. I could forage without fear of being bothered by anything other than thorns (of which there were plenty) and spiders (of which I saw none).

blackberry patch growing near a telephone pole

blackberry close-up

Though this activity is perfectly legal, I still felt a bit subversive, plucking wild city fruit, free produce one pays good money for at the grocery store. For me, such foraging is the best kind of gardening: gathering in a local harvest I never once had to weed or water. And it happens simply by looking around our public spaces and seeing what's familiarly edible. For Portlanders, the Urban Edibles site is a useful resource, mapping a growing, local database. For those who prefer a more formal experience, the Portland Fruit Tree Project coordinates volunteers to harvest fruit that homeowners for whatever reason can't access or don't want, donating the first-quality fruit to local food banks, volunteers then buying for cheap the leftover bruised or otherwise damaged grades, usually for preserving.* Or one can contract a guided urban foraging tour from private experts around town (see, for example, details in the Spring 2012 issue of Edible Portland, pp. 44-49). Similar organizations and events are sprouting in many cities and communities.

gleaned urban blackberries

I filled a bowl of gleaned berries and walked the few blocks home, leaving them on the counter for a couple days until I had time to blend them up into smoothies for breakfast: blackberry with unsweetened almond milk, banana, a few small kale leaves from the garden beds, a spoonful of honey, and a few ice cubes. You can call me Ms. Modern Hunter-Gatherer, but my grandparents would scoff. They would call such food sourcing common sense.

blackberry smoothie

*Note: I actually volunteered with the PFTP a couple of summers ago while a harvest party was being recorded by Destination DIY, a local public radio show. You can hear the Season 1 snippet here.

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