Problems with edible landscaping in the public sphere:
Rot and verminPeople can be so disconnected from the natural world nowadays. You wouldn’t think the bounty from a fruit tree could be ignored and left to rot in a busy parking lot, but I’ve seen it myself, and have concluded that a number of things can lead to just that situation. First, some people are so unfamiliar with how our food looks when it’s growing that they can be staring an apple in the face and be unsure of whether it’s as safe to eat as something at the supermarket. Secondly, nobody likes to feel like a thief, so if it’s unclear to people whether or not they are allowed to take some fruit, the majority of people would lean towards not taking it. Third, all of that fruit comes on so fast that even if 20 employees are having an apple or two every day, it’s not nearly enough to keep up with the flow from just one tree. Once fruit drops on the ground in a somewhat public setting, nobody is inclined to eat it except for rats and other vermin, which makes it into a maintenance and health hazard.
Liability concernsAnother issue that most people don’t think about is liability. If people are wandering around in the landscaped beds rather than on the stable concrete surface of the pathway, there’s a lot more potential for people to trip and become injured. This concern is multiplied if there’s any rotten fruit left on the ground that may have become supernaturally slippery.
Homeless and other foot trafficIn areas with a large homeless population, some businesses would prefer to do whatever they can to discourage homeless people from loitering near their customers’ vehicles or near the windows of the business. I’ve also witnessed some issues with homeless people behaving like my chickens when faced with free fruit – often times people will take a bite or two and then throw the fruit on the ground, sometimes littering walkways, drains, and the concrete surfaces of parking lots which can become dangerous when littered with organic material. For whatever reason, this behavior may be repeated multiple times. I’m not entirely sure what leads either human beings or my chickens to take a single bite out of 10 different pieces of fruit and then leave the rest to rot, but it does happen.
MaintenanceWhile there are some edible plants that are 100% suitable for landscaping, don’t make a mess, and don’t need much special care, the fact remains that the majority of edibles do need some level of extra maintenance in order to perform well and not suffer from disease issues. For example, fruit trees benefit from winter pruning and a few applications of dormant oil and organic fungicide each winter. While I personally am unbothered by blemishes on a piece of organic fruit, most businesses wouldn’t find it easy to encourage people to pick a bucket of spotty apples. We’ve gotten spoiled by the pesticide-laden fare at the supermarket which looks perfect, and people think there’s something wrong with an apple having a couple of spots. Beyond that, there’s the simple issue that it takes a lot of energy for a plant to create fruit year after year. In home gardens, we add compost, maybe a little organic fertilizer, and generally provide good care to our plants. In a more commercial setting, there may be foot traffic compacting the soil, irrigation is often turned off after the first few years, the contractor may have used landscaping fabric which slowly contributes to the depletion of nutrients from the soil, and the landscape may even be “mulched” with rocks, which shatters fruit as soon as it drops. And I’ve never seen a commercial landscape that was top-dressed with compost after the initial installation. Never. That is a challenging life for a plant from which you are asking so much.
Benefits of edible landscaping in the public sphere:Now that I’ve depressed you by talking about the potential problems, let’s talk about the benefits that edible landscaping can contribute to a cityscape, business, or apartment setting.
A positive company cultureHave you ever worked in a soul-sucking cubicle, with people who don’t seem to like each other much, all trooping along to meetings and CCing one another on pointless and exhausting emails? Well, I haven’t, but I’ve certainly heard rumors. Now imagine the following scenarios at this company:
- Your boss ends a meeting by saying, “And I just wanted to let you all know that the pears in the parking lot are ready for picking, and there are bags and boxes in the break room. Please take as much as you can use.”
- An email from the CEO that reads, “The blueberries are ripening and should be going for another two months, so please help yourself. And by the way, here’s a recipe for a great blueberry coffee cake!”
- Sitting at your desk, too busy to run out to lunch, and your coworker brings back a bag full of plums and offers some to you.
- In the break room, a constant summer stream of homemade galettes, pies, and fruity muffins brought in to share by industrious coworkers.
- Hearing the enthusiastic “thanks!” from friends and relatives when you bring them a bag full of fresh lemons, apples, or a homemade pie made with the free fruit from your office.