• Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • Our Blog

    This is a single blog caption

    When is Taking Not Stealing

    One question that tends to come up when I speak about public orchards is: What if people steal the fruit?

    That is, what if people take the fruit from trees in parks, on congregational or school yards or neighborhood lots?

    My answer is it depends on whom you think the trees are for. Or put another way, what is your sense of the Commons.

    The “Commons” is our grand shared inheritance – both natural and cultural – that belongs equally to all of us. It is defined in distinction to marketplace commodities, and is cherished for its use-value (the good it gives us) even more than for its exchange-value (what it can buy or get for us).

    It is a concept that has fallen out of use, even fallen out of favor. Yet once upon a time, it was the way we thought about the majority of the world.

    As David Bollier explains it in “The Commons: A Neglected Sector of Wealth-Creation”:

    “[The Commons] can refer to shared resources that a community builds and maintains (libraries, parks, streets); national resources that belong to everyone (lakes, forests, wildlife); and global resources that all living things need to survive (the atmosphere, water, biodiversity)…. In a commons, long-term stewardship and fair allocations of resources are seen as more important than maximizing profits or sales.”

    Government is a cultural commons; taxes help maintain and protect our natural and cultural commons. We cannot live without the beneficent gifts of the Commons.

    It is true that some urban orchards do not belong to the Commons. They may be on private lands, been part of a family estate for centuries, or are the possession of a commercial enterprise. And there is no doubt that many of the fruit trees we are hoping will be planted over the next few years will also be on private land with access limited to private owners.

    But hopefully there will be an explosion of public orchards as well, orchards planted in parks and vacant lots, at school yards and congregations. And the attitude and expectations we bring to these plantings will determine if they are part of the Commons or not, and if taking their fruit is stealing or not.

    Commons are not meant to be unregulated areas; they are not free-for-alls where anyone can do whatever they wish. (That leads us down the path of environmental degradation.) They are places in which all have a share, all have a stake, all have a responsibility.

    How sad if people could not fruit in Commons places without it being called stealing! We can create rules of the Commons to protect them, rules which allow passers-by to pluck fruit for their immediate pleasure and nourishment; allow children to come by on their way home from school and pick enough fruit for dinner. We can put up signs, and encourage public support, that explain that these fruits are there for the picking, but only as much as you can carry in your hands.

    Public orchards should be part of the public good, part of the Commons that nourishes us and binds us all together. The Commons is there to be used, and shared. In such a place, managed with such an attitude, taking is not stealing.




    Leave a Reply