About this Blog

Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

I created this blog in 2009 when I began working at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. My work at this organization opened my eyes to food justice issues in America, and I had a strong desire to better understand the difficulties many people face when trying to access healthy food on a limited budget. So, I embarked on my own Food Stamp Challenge, living on $31/week as a vegan. I used this blog to chronicle my experience.

While my Food Stamp Challenge project has come to an end, you can see what I learned from it by reading the Greatest Hits posts linked to the right side of the page. Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.

Stay Hungry,


Monday, June 15, 2009

Lemons in my alleyway

After I spent several hard earned dollars on 5 non-organic, not necessarily local lemons at Trader Joe's (which I drove to) I realized that there is a perfectly great lemon tree bursting with fruit in the alley across from my apartment (50 foot walk). This tree is located within the gates of a motorcycle repair shop, but a huge bough full of fruit hangs over into the alley, which according to most sources makes the fruit public.

Public or not, there were a ton of squashed, wasted lemons on the ground, and the tree was hanging heavy with fruit. Even if it wasn't public fruit, no one seemed all too concerned about harvesting these lemons so I had at it. I picked 5 lemons - more than enough to last me through the week. I was elated.

This discovery brought me back to something I've been wanting to write more about for awhile. In the post that was published on Change.org I touched on the fact that I thought a new urban planning model that made room for urban farms and community gardens could go a long way to fix the food problem in this country. I still feel very strongly about this idea.

The concept of public fruit is an interesting one, and it is getting more attention lately. There is a very cool activist art project going on in my very own neighborhood of Silverlake called Fallen Fruit. This project involves the mapping of fruit trees that hang over into sidewalks, parking lots, and other public spaces. By mapping where these public food resources are located the group hopes to bring about more local eating and less waste of perfectly good produce.

On June 9th, the New York Times published an article titled Neighbor, can you spare a plumb? This article talks about the growing movement of fruit and vegetable sharing across the nation, and mentions public fruit harvesting projects similar to Fallen Fruit all over the country.

The organization Urban Farming's mission says it all: Urban Farming's mission is to create an abundance of food for people in need by planting gardens on unused land and space while increasing diversity, educating youth, adults and seniors and providing an environmentally sustainable system to uplift communities. The organization plants food anywhere they can find space. They even hang edible gardens off of walls.

It is really encouraging to me that people are starting to unite and share food in this way.

I mean, we've done it before. During the peak of the Victory Garden movement during WWII, small plots in suburban backyards and urban communities alike yielded 40% of the produce consumed in America. Today, most of what we eat is specially engineered to travel great distances to get to us, and it arrives wrapped in packaging with all sorts of nutritional claims on it. It isn't local. It isn't simple, sustainable, or necessarily good for us. It is built to travel and make a profit. And, judging from the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease going on in this country right now it hasn't gotten us any healthier.

So, what if we focused a little more on using our urban space more efficiently? For one, a lot of food producers and advertisers would lose a lot of money. On the other hand, a lot of us (including mother earth) would be a lot healthier.

Imagine an urban landscape where some of those medians at street intersections had fruit trees in them. Or, where the roof tops of our apartments had planter boxes on the perimeter with lightweight soil and space for some tomatoes. What if your boss brought the extra oranges from his tree in to work to trade you for the mint growing wildly all over your yard? How much fruit could we grow if we installed vertical planting walls on the walls of building in our cities? Maybe enough to make a difference, block by block, in the food insecurity issue in low income communities.

I know I said "imagine" up there in that paragraph, and I know I put most of my sentences into questions, but I am serious. I don't think this has to be a hypothetical necessarily. It would be a matter of a change in priorities.

Small start: lets start taking advantage of the public fruit and urban farming resources we already have. I'll tell you, as long as that lemon tree in my alleyway is bearing fruit I'm not wasting any gas to get to Trader Joe's and buy a bag of lemons. I'd love to hear about the public fruit you found in your neighborhood or the trade you orchestrated to get some peaches in exchange for your surplus of basil.


  1. veggietrader.com is designed to help with urban fruit sharing as well.

  2. Yea! Its mentioned in the NY Times article. I have been wanting to check it out.

  3. My house came with a (70 years old now) fig tree. They are not uncommon in this part of Baltimore. I always let a branch or twohang over the alley so my neighbors can come pick them.

    In the park at the end of the street, there are ginkos and mulberries which I've seen people collecting. usually, it seems it's just the Spanich speaking people who go for the mulberries and a couple Asian women who go for the ginkos. I have to admit, the nuts are so stinky I'm not sure I could bring myself to try them.