During the summer after my college graduation, I ate my first wild fruit. It was a blackberry found on a narrow two-lane farm road along the sweltering Southern Oregon border.
The idea to eat the marble-sized violet jewel wasn't mine. Instead, the idea came from a co-worker who identified the thorny brambles along the roadside as blackberry bushes. He said the fruit was free for the taking.
Naturally, I was hesitant. I was oblivious to the fact that fruits and edible plants could technically grow anywhere, and a recent bout with poison ivy had left me skeptical about touching any plant or weed I wasn't already accustomed to — let alone eating one.
A few moments coaxing and name-calling convinced me to try one of the berries. We grasped the tiny orbs, failing to avoid their prickly stems. Our hands, dirty from the morning's work, were dotted with drops of blood and the berries' violet juice.
On the count of three, we tossed them back. In that moment, I'd become a forager.
Now, years removed from that moment, I scan any tree or shrub in my path when I'm on a hike or bike ride. While it may seem like the chance of finding edible plants in San Antonio would be slim to none, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Inside Loop 410 alone, there are some 200 varieties of edible fruits or plants, according to Falling Fruit, a free online database and map that highlights foraging opportunities worldwide. Accessible at fallingfruit.org, the site offers info on a "half-million food sources around the world (from plants and fungi to water wells and dumpsters)."
I'm not sure how many urban foragers are willing to include dumpster diving on their itineraries, but hey, the option is there.
The online map is simple to use. One can enter an address to zoom in and even filter for desired types of plants. Users then help update the database to make it useful for others.
Moving the map around one day, I noticed two rosemary bushes within walking distance from my office. After walking through the rain to the spot where the plants were purported to be, I realized they'd been cut — and that they had been on city-owned property. In Texas, foraging from government-owned property is illegal.
Falling Fruit, while a fantastic resource, has its shortcomings.
Foraging in places with swathes of public land, such as Oregon, simplifies searching for edible plants. Conversely, the massive amount of privately owned land across San Antonio means that one needs to be more strategic in approach.
To the unassuming bystander, I imagine it looks like I'm playing a version of Pokémon GO when I'm using the app. I look at my phone, zoom in and out, examine at the flora in question, check my phone again.
One of those phone-consulting excursions, I realized that I'd identified a pomegranate tree. A quick Google search confirmed the suspicion. While examining the tree, it was clear that its fruit wouldn't be ready for a few months. Still, the moment brought joy.
Whether he intended to or not, the coworker on my Oregon excursion made me realize that fruit and other edible plants can grow anywhere. They don't always need to come from a farmers' market or grocery store. Sometimes they're growing right outside your front door.
Now, thanks to Falling Fruit, I have become the guy telling others that the tree they're standing next bears edible fruit. My hope is that, like my friend, I can awaken them to the delicious bounty available in public spaces.