It's mulberry season here in Toronto, all though not many people know it.
Every year around this time, our mulberry trees become heavy with sweet mulberrys, and birds and squirrels can often be seen feasting on this abundance of fruit. A lot of it, however, especially from the city's public trees, simply goes to waste.
I went to a park today, behind the community centre near one of the places I work. Ziploc bag in hand, I spent a good half hour happily picking all the ripe fruit within arms' reach, while a squirrel occasionally scolded me from up higher in the tree. When I had gotten everything I could that way, I stood up on a small metal parking barrier and pulled branches down so I could reach the fruit a little higher up.
What I found very interesting was peoples' reactions as they walked by. A young boy stopped to stare at me for a few minutes before continuing on, only to keep turning his head back to look at me again. Mothers holding hands with young children sped up as they passed me, presumably to protect their children from the crazy lady picking wild fruit.
One man on a bicycle slowed and came to a stop, asking "What are they - cherries?"
I replied, "No, they're mulberries!"
"Oh - what do you do with them?"
"Eat them!" I replied cheerfully, and continued to pick.
He then asked what they tasted like, and I said they were sweet when they were fully ripe. He seemed fascinated, and said "I'll try them next time" before continuing his ride.
Others ignored me entirely, in typical Toronto fashion. Another man reached up and picked one to pop in his mouth, mid-walk.
Last week, I took the 18-month old I babysit for a walk in this park, and when we passed the tree, I reached up and popped one in my mouth. She stared at me as if I'd literally sprouted horns out of my head, and looked uneasy. "Yummy!" I said and smiled, trying to reassure her. I reached up and picked one more, offering it to her. She hesitantly smiled and shook her head, saying "No - Ana" so I ate it as well, trying to show her it was safe. I picked a third, offered it again. She smiled a little more, still cautious, but again shook her head and said "No - Ana", and seemed amused as I ate yet another one. (As we continued walking, she pointed to another tree and gestured as if she wanted me to eat something from it as well, so then I had to explain that it was different and not a berry tree!)
While some would say it is sad that we have lost touch with the natural world around us, so much so that we pass by good food literally falling from trees without a second glance, the baby's alarmed reaction to my eating something straight from a tree is also quite fascinating to me. It highlights how early on we learn how to relate and respond to the world around us, even without language. Even infants pick up what is good, or bad, safe or not safe, desirable or undesirable - simply from observation. It really makes you think... but I'll save that for a future post.
If you live in Toronto and have a fruit tree in your yard that you don't have time to harvest and the fruit is going to waste, consider registering your tree at Not Far From the Tree, and a group of volunteers will come and pick your fruit, give you 1/3, keep 1/3 for themselves, and deliver 1/3 to food banks and shelters. Everybody wins! Or, if you don't have a fruit tree but want some delicious free fruit, consider volunteering as a fruit picker.