Imagine a local neighborhood evolving into an urban orchard, with a network of fruit-bearing trees linking one community to the next. A place that provided a unique opportunity for neighbors and visitors to eat fresh produce, explore, and engage with their city and one another in a new way.
This vision is the inspiration behind the Fallen Fruit art collaborative and their ongoing project, The Endless Orchard. Two of the creators of Fallen Fruit, Austin Young and David Burns, have partnered with UB Art Galleries and Locust Street Art to add Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood to their Endless Orchard.
Fallen Fruit was founded in 2004 by Burns, Young, and fellow artist Matias Viegener as a response to an open-call for submissions to a Los Angeles based art ‘zine, “The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest,” which prompted artists to ponder the question, “Is it possible to use the agency of activism, but without opposition?
“Or in other words,” Burns said, “Is it possible to create something that exists that is pro-humanity and pro-culture and pro-world connectedness without needing to be against anything?”
The trio’s response centered on fruit as their medium. In researching their own neighborhood, they found that over 100 fruit trees existed in nearby public spaces, yet they weren’t being accessed by residents. As Burns notes, people were driving to a supermarket to purchase fresh produce when it was growing right there in their neighborhood.
“So we wrote a text, took some photos, drew a map and called it Fallen Fruit,” Burns said. “The name Fallen Fruit actually comes from Leviticus and it quotes a citation that calls to ‘not harvest the edges of your fields or vineyards, to leave the fallen fruit for the stranger or passerby.’ It is our collective responsibility to take care of others and this is the foundation for the work of Fallen Fruit.”
The group began mapping fruit trees all over LA and launched several projects and site-specific installations, all centered around fruit as a transcultural symbol of sharing. They hosted Public Fruit Jams, where they invited the public to bring their own fruit and make jam together, and Nocturnal Fruit Forages, where they led guests on nighttime neighborhood fruit tours. Then a new idea surfaced.
“We thought what if we created an app that included the tools we have learned to use to get more fruit trees planted in public spaces to expand to maps? What if anyone could do it, so essentially it could become the largest collaborative artwork in the world?” Burns said. The Endless Orchard was born – an app where anyone, anywhere can plant a fruit tree along the margins of their property where the public can access it, then map it on the Endless Orchard web app. As more people plant and map their trees, this simultaneously real and virtual orchard of sharing expands.
On a trip to Buffalo last Fall, Burns and Young visited the Fruit Belt neighborhood, met residents, learned about the issues facing the community, and shared their project. Soon, the neighborhood will become part of The Endless Orchard.
This Saturday, May 6, at 11 a.m., Fallen Fruit and many volunteers will meet at Locust Street Art to plant fruit trees at the gallery and throughout the Fruit Belt neighborhood, including apple, pear, quince, and peach trees, as well as cherry, blackberry and blueberry bushes. Each plant will be sourced from a regional grower and will be tagged with a sign that will help visitors identify its variety, type and time of year for ripeness. The group will also add signage that designates the area as a “Public Fruit Park” where anyone is welcome to share in consuming the fruit from the trees.
This tree planting is part of a larger exhibition at UB called “Wanderlust: Actions, Traces, Journeys” that will open in the fall of 2017. The exhibition focuses on artists who take their work beyond the confines of studio and gallery walls – a perfect place to feature the work of Fallen Fruit.
In addition to the Endless Orchard planting, Fallen Fruit will be working with students and staff at Locust Street Art to create a ‘zine project and a series of custom made flags that convey themes of sharing and public fruit. Fallen Fruit will also be working on a window treatment that will be part of the UB exhibition in the fall.
“By working with the youth and neighbors at Locust Street Art, we hope to galvanize and strengthen bonds, and hope that the fruit trees will be generous and give fruit to everyone for years to come,” Burns said. “Life is lived through connections and memory. Culture is created through community, ritual and family. It is through collaboration that we find shifts in meaning. Relationships. Friendships. Communities. Oral histories. Archives. And so on”
Another benefit to joining Fallen Fruit’s Endless Orchard will be improved access to fresh produce in the Fruit Belt neighborhood – produce that can be easily harvested, by anyone, for free.
“Most cities and counties in the U.S. can only legally plant ornamental, non-edible landscape. A city may plant 1,000 trees in an at-risk neighborhood and not one of them is an apple, pear, peach or plum,” Burns said. “That just doesn’t make sense. From the research we have done over 14 years, we believe that cities could be like communal gardens, providing edible public resources that could better utilize open urban spaces for enjoyment and community connectedness.”
Those interested in volunteering with Fallen Fruit at their tree planting on May 6 can contact Rachel Adams, curator at UB Art Galleries, at email@example.com or 716-645-0571. More information on the tree planting event can be found on Facebook.