If you ever need directions to a tree bearing fruit, Ethan Welty and Jeff Wanner will show you the way.
“You don’t have to go far to find apples in Boulder,” Ethan said, walking beside Jeff down 14th Street.
The pair eventually stopped at a plum tree in front of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center. They put down their backpacks, pulled out plastic containers and got to work collecting plums from the tree.
“You certainly get passerby that stop and ask what you’re doing and what you’re picking,” said Jeff, grabbing a handful of plums.
The two urban foragers are used to the strange looks and comments.
“You kind of look like a homeless guy,” Ethan said with a laugh.
Ethan and Jeff have been foraging for years.
“I think I’d say what got me into it was blackberry bushes back home in North Carolina,” said Jeff, grabbing another plum.
“I think I was eating stuff off the ground when I was a kid,” Ethan responded with another laugh.
In 2013, Ethan, Jeff and their friend, Caleb Phillips, started the non-profit, Falling Fruit. Using data sets from cities and universities, they created a map of the urban harvest. The comprehensive, interactive map of all things edible, allows users to pinpoint exactly where to find various plants, fruits, vegetables and more.
“We’re not only focusing on the charismatic, mega-edibles, but really just any kinds of plants that yield food in some way or another,” Ethan said.
Users can add their own entries to the map, which is open for anyone to edit. There are at least a million entries all over the world, and in Colorado alone, there are at least 212,000. Ethan and Jeff said about 40 percent of the entries are located outside the United States.
Last summer, the Falling Fruit creators launched a beta app users can access on their phones as they forage.
“In a way, all we’ve done is provide a new app for an old idea,” said Ethan.
For Ethan and Jeff, guiding others to the urban harvest so they can collect for themselves is the real fruit of their labor.
“Maybe [foraging] saves me money, but that’s not really the reason,” Ethan said. “It’s more about the thrill of being out and seeking adventure and being rewarded with fresh local produce that I found myself.”