ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For some people, the phrase urban foraging means hipsters picking expired food out of dumpsters - not the League of Urban Canners. They are going after produce straight from the source - trees. NPR's Arun Rath spent time with the group scouring the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge and Somerville.
ARUN RATH, BYLINE: It's a little strange meeting urban foragers next to a Whole Foods. But that's where Amy Jarvis of the League of Urban Canners found a great apple tree.
AMY JARVIS: It's a habit as a forager or a harvester in the city is once you get started you first notice fallen fruit on the ground - and that's exactly what happened the other day as I walked past here.
RATH: Amy's here with Sam Christy, a local teacher who founded the League of Urban Canners four years ago.
SAM CHRISTY: I think the plan was- I think our first year we thought if we can harvest, you know, maybe 50 quarts of, like, jam and it ended up being, I don't know, 200 quarts. And then it sort of grew from there.
RATH: The League harvests from trees on public and private land - always with permission. The property owners get back at least 10 percent of the fruit harvested or the processed preserves.
CHRISTY: We harvest roughly 4,000 pounds a year. We've only measured it one year but that's probably about the average.
RATH: But when a member of the League showed high levels of lead in his blood, Amy worried maybe the fruit was contaminated so she wrote to an expert.
DAN BRABANDER: Lead is very sticky, so once it's in the soil, it stays in the soil.
RATH: Dan Brabander is a professor of geosciences and environmental studies at Wellesley College, and he's been studying urban agriculture for years. He says the lead that lingers in urban soil can make it into some food.
BRABANDER: Green leafy produce tends to accumulate lead from the soil.
RATH: To find out if the same could be true for fruit like apples and cherries, Brabander and his students teamed up with the League of Urban Canners to collect samples. He pulls some of Amy's apples out of the freezer.
BRABANDER: These are samples that we've actually collected a soil sample with at the same time. We know that there's lead in the soil.
RATH: Lead in the soil, but the testing showed the lead did not make it into the apples. Not only that, much of the food they tested shows higher levels of beneficial micronutrients, like calcium. Amy and Dan suspect those nutrients are what makes the urban fruit taste so distinctive and so good. And I have to say, the apples I sampled were tastier than any I've eaten in recent memory. Arun Rath, NPR News, Boston.
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