Private Trees, Public Property: Picking 'Fallen Fruit' Three Los Angeles artists are trying to create a community around gathering what they call "fallen fruit" -- fruit that falls onto public property from trees planted on private property. Day to Day producer Skye Rohde reports on the effort, and community reaction to picking this fruit.
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Private Trees, Public Property: Picking 'Fallen Fruit'

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Private Trees, Public Property: Picking 'Fallen Fruit'

Private Trees, Public Property: Picking 'Fallen Fruit'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The apple-picking season is drawing to a close, and in many places, farmers' markets are closing for the year. But in Los Angeles, an effort to build a community around fruit--fruit that comes from other people's trees--is just starting to take hold. DAY TO DAY producer Skye Rohde prepared this report.

Mr. DAVID BURNS (Artist): Hola. Hi.

Unidentified Woman: Hi.

Mr. BURNS: We were just admiring your apple trees.

Unidentified Woman: You can have some apples.

Mr. BURNS: Are you sure? Is it OK?

SKYE ROHDE reporting:

Like many neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Silverlake is filled with fruit trees. There's always something in season. Avocados, lemons, limes and oranges are year-round; guavas, bananas, figs and passion fruit are seasonal. Most people in Silverlake wouldn't think of walking into somebody's yard to pick fruit from their trees, but there's an unspoken rule that the fruit that hangs over a property boundary in the public space is up for grabs. Three LA artists want to make this fruit a public good. One of them, Dave Burns, is a college teacher.

Mr. BURNS: This is about a resource, and the key word is `sharing.' So if there's a resource that's overlooked, and if it happens to be in your neighborhood, that--this is an opportunity to share. It's not just share fruit--which is, of course, the theme--but it's actually to share resources and history and culture and knowledge and tradition and things like that. LA's rich, but you mostly experience it through a car, so you don't know.

ROHDE: Burns and his fellow fruit lovers Austin Young and Matias Viegener mapped Silverlake and a few other LA neighborhoods and posted the maps on their Web site, This all started a year and a half ago as an art project. Now the artists want to map fruit trees in neighborhoods across the nation with the help of a grant they just received.

Mr. BURNS: There's a responsibility of due diligence, which is part about learning. You know, we say, `Know your fruit,' so you want to learn your neighborhood and pay attention. And then let's get real. I mean, if you're going to go pick your neighborhood clean, that's hoarding, and that's not what we're about. We're talking about walking down the street and grabbing an apple when it's overhanging the sidewalk.

ROHDE: The law is unclear as to whether it's legal to pick fruit off a tree planted on private property that leans over a sidewalk. Los Angeles municipal law says it's legal to pick fruit from trees on city property, but the law is vague about the fruit on branches that hang over public property. Los Angeles property lawyer Harry Gerrity says common sense may trump all else in a legal gray area like this.

Mr. HARRY GERRITY (Property Lawyer): If somebody asks me what to do--`Could I pick that fruit?'--I'd say, `Why don't you knock on the door of the person whose tree that belongs to and ask them if you can?'

ROHDE: Toni Ager(ph) agrees with that advice. She lives in Hancock Park, an older, wealthier part of Los Angeles. Her peach trees were listed in an article about fruit trees that hang over public property. She says she and her husband are to happy to have people pick the ripe fruit.

Ms. TONI AGER (Peach Tree Owner): It's not about removing the trees unless we--you know, it's almost a shame to take them out. Did you see the sidewalk? It's a mess. And the gardener takes them and some people that come by with paper bags and they fill it up, and then there's still a lot of peaches there.

ROHDE: One woman who owns a building in Silverlake, Roxane Auer, even planted fruit trees on the edge of her property specifically so that people can have blood oranges and lemons when they want them.

Ms. ROXANE AUER: When I finally got a chance to buy my first house, there's just this perfect big piece of dirt right out along the sidewalks. And I really liked the idea of putting fruit trees there way out available to people to pick from, and even when the fruit came putting a sign up.

Mr. BURNS: There's a fig. Is that a fig?

Unidentified Man: Yep.

ROHDE: For the Fallen Fruit artists, this isn't about ownership, though they do agree that trespassing is taboo. Instead, for them it all comes back to seeing the possibilities within a single sweet orange hanging from a tree. For NPR News, I'm Skye Rohde.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY will be back in just a moment.

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