Where I grew up - in a very small town in Upstate NY - it was all fields and farms and not a whole lot going on. Behind our house were acres and acres of wild fields and coyote and fox dens. Deer and bunnies and woodchucks and just about everything else. We went sledding there in the winters and explored in the summers.
Now developers have moved in and the fields behind where my parents still live is is new housing development with very, very expensive houses constructed by the lowest bidder with the cheapest materials. At the newly made road that shoots off the main road to enter the development sits the almost 200 year old farmhouse and outbuildings where the farmer who once used the acres and acres for cattle grazing once lived. It is now owned by a family who does take care of the property, but their yard has been reduced to just what the buildings are sitting on.
There are still remnants of the old farm there - the stone smokehouse, the chicken coop and the large hay storage barns. And there are also the pear trees. they now fill the weedy buffer of about 50 feet between the farmhouse and the new development road. No one really knows who they actually belong to but every year they are filled with big green pears that no one picks, save the few deer that are left in the quickly vanishing wild space.
My first instinct was to pick them, can them and feel so proud of myself for being so frugal. Then I thought about someone seeing me do it. Who did own these pears? Would they care if I picked them? If they were on the developers property then probably not. They have no use for pears when they just want to make a quick buck by destroying the landscape and building over rated housing. Did the people who live in the farmhouse own them? If so, why weren't they picking them?
Would I get in trouble? I hate confrontation. I hate knocking on peoples doors and possibly getting an answer of "no" even more.
So the pears went to the deer and to the layers of composting fruit somewhere in the weeds.
My foraging ideas are still floating around inside my head, especially since food of all kinds is growing like crazy right now. I read blog articles about people driving back roads looking for apple trees and filling up 5 gallon buckets to make cider or applesauce. Wild cherry picking, black walnut collection, wild strawberry procurement, blackberries, red raspberries, sunflower seeds, wild leeks, acorns - all just there for the taking.
And those are just the things that are immediately recognizable as food to my untrained eye. So many greens, mushrooms, nuts, berries and flowers that I would not know to be eatable.
I must stop this train of thought and remind myself that I am not living in medieval England. It's not just there for the taking. That is someones property. There could be decades of chemical contaminates in the soil those berries are growing in. There could be animal contamination, pesticides sprayed an adjacent field, guard dogs, kids with air rifles, posted signs, cranky people, fences or garbage and waste contamination.
Or the pears could just taste really bad.
And, even with all that I read and know, there is always this little know-it-all voice in my head telling me that those pears are not safe.
"Those pears are dirty! They might have bugs in them! They need to be pasteurized and pressurized and sanitized! Just go to the grocery store - those pears are safe!"
I have the same problem with dairy products but that is a whole other post. Conditioning is a very dangerous little game.
Back to the problem at hand - to pick the pears or not to pick the pears. I have decided to fight the system - push back against the conditioning and questionable property lines. The worst that could happen is the pears taste bad or someone kindly suggests that the pears are not for public use.
This summer, I'm picking the pears.