Community fruit forests: picking (un)wholesome fruit?

While visiting the garden of a friend last week, we came upon the topic of community fruit orchards and the tragedy of the commons. In this case, unlike the usual parable (popularised by Hardin), it wasn’t an orchard that gradually became barren through the selfish acts of fruit-pickers, but a grove of trees that slowly accumulated sweet fruit that rotted from neglect–because no one dared to pick the fruit.

 

This was lamented at some length by our friend, P, who said, “The breadfruit trees near my house are always bearing fruit, but no one picks them, and when I tried to, I was told by a passer-by, ‘you can’t pick it!'”

 

A breadfruit tree in a neighbour's yard.
Breadfruit trees in the neighbourhood.

Singapore is home to many trees–just how many is a question for the public, but not one the National Parks Board is alien to. Each tree is an administrative unit governed by the NParks. While heritage trees are marked out on OneMap.sg, the location of each tree isn’t considered public data–though it’s hard to tell if this is simply due to the extensive nature of the database or high security protocols (around trees). Who knows?

 

During our conversation, different people spoke about the consequences of planting trees on the walkways outside your home, which are legally public property:

 

  1. Warnings are given by visiting authorities.
  2. Not all officials seem to mind. Anecdotes were shared of rogue trees growing peaceably in certain wards.
  3. After a few warnings, the tree is cut down.

 

The felling of trees seems relatively harmless in Singapore; no one really gets injured. This takes on quite a different tone in countries where trees and crops are an important source of income and food for people (also see this).

 

In Singapore’s context, it’s baffling and slightly ironic to think how good fruit is simply going to waste.

 

Jolly old breadfruit!
Jolly old breadfruit!

 

Having people look after existing fruit trees also provides a service to the community (so we don’t slip on rotting fruit, and fruits don’t fall on parked cars or passersby). Looking back in history, the government of Singapore planted fruit trees in abundance (while legislating fines to make sure people didn’t uproot or deface the trees) until realising that fallen fruits were rotting, with insufficient manpower to pick them (see Nature Contained for more on Singapore’s greening policies).

 

Yet, as someone pointed out when we continued our conversation later in the week, some interesting initiatives have been initiated, by a range of actors, to do more with the fruit of our soil:

 

  1. With the dry spell in 2009 (the same one that caused sakura blooms all over the island, for those who remember) NParks held their first charity give-away of mangoes picked from the roadside trees of Tampines.
  2. Community gardens have initiated fruit tree harvests in the areas surrounding their gardens
  3. Individuals are considering the possibility of starting neighbourhood community fruit harvests, or of beginning plots of fruit orchards on the grounds of private charities.
  4. We most definitely aren’t the first to think of this! These concerns have been raised over the years (as in this recent discussion organised by SMU). The only thing different now is: we definitely know there are communities of people interested, and we aim to spread this circle as wide as possible.

 

There are plenty of new ideas we can work with. I’ll leave you with an inspiring piece on fruit foragers, maps and biking trails in Germany–one for cyclists, health and map nuts!

A visit to Geok Kuan’s: Preparations for a farmers’ market

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, I and two others made our way over to Geok Kuan’s place in the east.
Our aim that day was to learn about the work that she and some others have been diligently doing for the past 2-3 months in documenting the knowledge of local medicinal plant varieties.
At the same time, it was also for us to get to know one another. I’d been meeting each of them in different places and situations, and was eager to introduce them all to the work and ideas that they each had. I think I felt underlying currents of similar interest amongst them. And if nothing else, we would at least have gotten to spend some time in a beautiful garden!
We settled into a very comfortable pace, introducing and sharing our stories. Along the way, Geok Kuan gave us tastings of teas she had been brewing. We cycled through them: Honeyed Roselle with its natural red tint, mulberry with red dates and gingko nut, with a little density and sweetness from the dates, and finally a drink made of lime, lemon, cactus and yellow rock sugar, which refreshed our senses.
We talked a lot that day:
  • about local medicinal plants,
  • the difficulty of learning how they complement each other,
  • what quantities to use them in,
  • that regulations on how dried TCM goods are imported, are not clear in Singapore,
  • and that a lot of the plants used by Uncle Tan are native herbs.
All of them interesting for further thought!
Geok Kuan and the team will be creating a website featuring recipes using common herbs on the street, herbal teas that he commonly dispenses (all with fresh herbs) and uses as general remedies,  teas using the plants available in the market, tips on when to add sugar, and recipes for externally applied salves.
We also took a walk around her garden, and I managed to take some notes. Please note that the medicinal property of these plants differ across people and it’s best to read up first before deciding to use a herb.
**
Nan fei ye-lowers blood pressure
Bitter ones are usually for high blood pressure
The less bitter ones are good for overall wellness.
Black face general used to clear toxins
 Wild strawberry
Huo tan mu
Chinese knotweed–funny because it apparently has become seen as a weed in Britain. Its quick growth has been the cause of much government spending, trying to race against the growth of the plant
Xia gu cao, self-heal, good for teas, mild, palatable flavour
Plantain. Ce qian cao.