It’s a California problem: fruit trees laden with bounty and the etiquette of who picks it under what circumstances.
Some people have too much fruit, others too little because neighbors or passersby come on private property and take it. One West Davis homeowners association has codified rules about picking fruit in certain zones of shared productive land.
People who deal with picking on a regular basis agree on one thing — ask first.
“I think it goes back to asking for permission and common decency,” said Rob Cain, city of Davis arborist.
“These are kind of lessons we get exposed to in kindergarten,” said Craig Diserens, executive director of Village Harvest, an association of six volunteer produce-picking nonprofits of the same name — including one in Davis — that donate their fruit to food banks and the needy.
Strictly speaking, Diserens said the law allows for people to pick fruit if a tree hangs over on their property or in a public space, like a sidewalk. In fact, there are maps on the Internet compiled by so-called urban foragers marking trees for picking. Davis fruit trees are featured in one Google urban foraging map.
But etiquette is different than the law. Etiquette ensures that no one feels cheated or insulted.
“Even when something’s on a public space, it’s courteous to ask (the owner of the tree),” Diserens said.
In many cases, he said, there is too much fruit on the tree and owners are willing to have it picked or share it.
“All these things are dependent on the circumstances and who the people are,” he said.
It can be hard to protect fruit trees from pickers who are not courteous and who trespass on private property to get at fruit. While also legally wrong, it violates a sense of common decency, according to fruit tree owners who have taken to the Internet to complain.
On one post on the culinary how-to website www.thekitchn.com, blogger Emma Christensen shared the plight of her neighbor’s quince tree, which is stripped every season by strangers before her neighbor could get to the quinces to make a special jam.
“Actually, the issue here isn’t so much that our neighbor is unwilling to share her quince tree or even that this person is coming onto her property (though she’s not exactly thrilled with that!),” Christensen wrote, adding that the point was to be neighborly, ask first and not take everything.
The food news website www.chow.com tackled the issue as well. Blogger Helena Echlin said by asking her friends, neighbors and co-workers nicely, she was able to pick more fruit than she could handle, resulting in a lot of pies for friends and co-workers.
The Village Homes Homeowners Association in West Davis has acute need for etiquette because fields of produce, orchards and vineyards interconnect the homes.
Kathy Robinson, a resident there, said the association has zones for each type of resident, including community picking spaces and individual picking spaces.
“If I ever have a question I knock on the (owner’s) door,” she said, adding that the association sometimes breaks it own rules to save some fruit from going to waste.
“If anything is ripe they might send out an email for us to go pick it,” she said.
Cid Barcellos, a University of California Master Gardener who volunteers at Grace Garden, always uses etiquette with the garden’s neighboring trees.
“At Grace Garden we have picked pomegranates from the neighbor’s tree that hung over the fence,” she wrote in an email. “This fall the neighbor pointed out the juiciest ones.”
Animals have no sense of human etiquette, of course.
“The squirrels got to many of them before we humans even had a chance,” she said. “And they didn’t even ask.”
— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews