Journal of Aesthetics & protest

Conversations and Theory in
practice. go post-money!!!

issue 7

Gathering The
Fruit Together

A conversation with Hynden Walch (Hillside Food Cooperative) and Asiya Wadud (Forage Oakland)

Hillside Produce Cooperative
Forage Oakland

Editor's note: The following are excerpts from a conversation with Hynden Walch of the Hillside Produce Cooperative and Asiya Wadud of Forage Oakland. Both are involved with the growing social practice of collectively gathering and then distributing food that is already growing and/or gardened in neighborhoods. We hope that these sort of these cooperative practices continue of the long term.

Hynden began with her ideas and responses to editorial prompts. Asiya then wrote in relation to Hynden's comments and her own.


Hynden: My project is about feeding everyone for free. That's all.
The Hillside Produce Cooperative is my chance to put  my highest idealism into practice: no money. no value added or detracted. no dibs. no tit for tat. everything is equal. everyone is equal. free means free.

I actually find this idea (ideal?) of a moneyless system very creative.  For a long time I've been feeling that the world is so locked into the social institution of money and cost, that it's almost impossible to imagine life functioning any other way.  Yet it can. - At least it does in my co-op.  This doesn't happen because of mandates or pressures to participate either - but rather from a very pure sense of generosity and a desire to regain a sense of inter-connectedness. 

ASIYA: Imagine a monthly swap meet where the neighborhood gathers and exchanges excess goods-- kitchen supplies, outgrown car seats , clothing no longer worn. Rather than having a traditional yard sale, a system could exist where used goods are simply exchanged for other goods from the neighborhood. It may sound a bit idealistic. But I think that there is something we could learn from the system's probable success. It could be a catalyst for exploring new paradigms of neighborhood cohesion.


Hynden: I just want to feed the hill which I live on and then teach interested parties how to do the same thing.  I'm interested in systems, systems of implementation - that in this case allow everyone to know each other in their own area and operate completely independently, rather than channeling all things through a centralized body. That I think is what creates so much distance between us.

When I spell it out (strangely, only to the media), my idea of moneylessness is either met with absolute suspicion or the assumption that I am completely naive to the ways of the "real world", that because of my idealism I will doubtlessly be: taken advantage of, treated unfairly, get "ripped off".  It's funny, actually, because I've experienced the exact opposite.

Co-op members give food because it makes them happy to give.  If they feel they haven't donated enough in a particular month, they ask me not to give them anything in return.  I have to argue with them to take their share!  I say, "I have a delicious bag of food for you!" They say, "But I didn't contribute enough!" Then I say, "Of course you did!" Then they say "well... ok... but only if you have enough for everyone else."

I'm constantly astounded by people's generosity. For me this stirs up the opposite of what media tells us about ourselves.  The people in the co-op feel undeserving of such goodness, guilty for accepting what they themselves helped build!  For me - it astounds.  TV would have us believe we're all a bunch of selfish narcissistic bastards obsessed with the idea that someone's trying to steal our money.  I don't even know if there are such people, honestly.  I've never met one.  For all I know they're television character- filler straight out of central casting.

Asiya: On the morning walks that I take, I'll leave a note for the residents of a house that has a productive fruit tree. I explain a bit about the project, that it's a barter network; that in my asking for bounty from their backyard, they are rewarded with a gift, an exchange of fruit. Often, a situation unfolds where the residents generously allow me to come to their home while they are working 9:00 to 5:00 with total trust. I enter their backyards and harvest fruit. Not only does this generosity impresses me, it is this trust in strangers which is not common in a large city where many residents do not know their next door neighbors. I find something very arresting in this.

Hynden: It is impossible to harbor animosity towards a neighbor who gives you perfect tomatoes each month for free.  You're eating their tomatoes! And every time you say "mmm..." over the delicious ripe red sweetness, you think of this neighbor, whom you might not have liked or trusted in the past, only now you think of them fondly. 

I noticed when I moved here how quickly my neighbors would get "up in arms" against something.  I never participated.  Now they've banded together in favor of something.  It feels good.

ASIYA: I think these small interventions may ultimately transform neighborhoods into the more idyllic image we have of communities of a bygone era. I began Forage Oakland partly because I found when I moved (even within the neighborhood), it was a struggle meeting my neighbors and feeling as though I was connected to a larger community. I'd walk each morning, charting the front yard and backyard fruit trees that were visible from the sidewalk. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the sheer bounty of fruit in this seven block radius.

There is a yellow plum tree on the edge of a park in my neighborhood; each summer I've collect several of the fruits that have fallen to the ground. If there is any on the branches that overhang the park sidewalk (making them public plums), I'll sample a few of these too. The house next to this tree is peculiar and stands out as dilapidated amongst well manicured homes with landscaped front yards and fat tabbies in the window. This house has peeling violet paint, heavy security bars on all the windows, and characters sitting on the roof drinking beers from the can.

Last summer while plucking plums from the branches overhanging the park, one of the residents came to the backyard to say hello. He completely disarmed me as he climbed the tree and passed sweet, yellow plums to Anya and me. He told us that he'd first tried this variety while camping in a state park nine years earlier, and had been so taken by the fruit that he saved several pits and brought them home to Oakland. The moment we had with him was magical.

This story stands out because I'd so surely made my mind up about the residents of this house, and I couldn't have been more off base!

Hynden: Taking food production and distribution back into one's own hands is an amazingly powerful experience.  It's been delegated to the supermarket for so many decades, filled with horrible plastic bags, plastic club cards, market research tracking systems, "produce brought to you by Chem-U-Labs Inc. ..," trucking, shipping, diesel fuel, pesticides, giant commercial farms, bar code scanners, fruit stickers from far-away lands, FDA approval, ATM cards, credit cards, cash back, more plastic bags, and taxes.  What happened? 

There is no more natural act than a person or an animal walking up to a tree, picking what grows there and eating it!  The aforementioned list of horrors is not requisite to the experience of eating.

The co-op came out of a... craving... to return to (or as a member of Generation X, do for the first time) a Depression Era Mentality.  I wanted to STOP WASTING.  Stop buying meaningless crap. Stop throwing money out the window. I wanted to sew the holes in my socks. I wanted to FIX things, not throw them away!  I was sick to tears of plastic!

ASIYA: These were houses that I passed almost every day on my ride to work and whose fruit trees I fantasized about. What were their residents like? I wondered what sort of relationship they had with their trees. It would be impossible, I thought, not to have a strong emotion for such imposing fruit objects. It could be that for Karen, Autumn is stress as she wonders how to manage the hachiya persimmon harvest. Maybe the couple with the Eden-like backyard see their trees as sad reminders of how far they've drifted from their former life. Perhaps Tom's plum trees at the park's edge are a nuisance now, considering they make such a mess if not harvested and left to fall to the ground. But, I it is so special that all these fruit trees are cherished.

There were many nights during the months that my friend Alexandra and I lived together where we’d long for lemon verbena tisane, and just as easily his longing was sated. Roundtrip, the bicycle ride to the Claremont Department of Motor Vehicles took six minutes . Near the parking lot, if you close your eyes and follow the scent, you're sure to find the lemon verbena bush. I’d harvest a few sprigs while Alexandra would put the kettle on. We’d sit on our living room couch drinking steaming mugs of verbena tisane, overwhelmed with our neighborhood's little pleasures.