Fruit routes – celebrating the first 5 years

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Foragers, fruiterers & gleaners: food for free(dom) and the polemic of campus! “A general and universall Plantation of such wholesome fruit (according to proportion) as might be for the relief of the poor, the benefit of the rich, and the delight of all… The light of nature will teach us that a common, and publike good is to be preferred to all private profit.” A Design for Plenty by an universall planting of fruit-trees (1652) Samuel Hartlib


oraging food, whether it’s from hedgerows, roadsides, footpaths, fields, forests, moorland or abandoned cottage gardens is an act which bristles with historical political resonances. It raises critical questions about food waste, public access to land, property ownership and the rights of individuals and communities to a sustainable existence, free from starvation or famine. In his book Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden (2013), George McKay describes the recent resurgence of communal and guerrilla gardening as ‘the contemporary manifestation of the making of a polemic landscape’, noting that the gardeners’ ‘generous gesture of free planting’ has a long history. McKay highlights Samuel Hartlib’s revolutionary plans for the English Commonwealth which called for the planting of fruit trees in hedgerows and wastelands and the appointing of special officers fruiterers or wood-wards – to look after them. Fruit Routes engages with this long and radical history of planting ‘generosity’. Over the last five years or so Fruit Routes has reached out beyond the confines of the campus such that, in the process, it has become a ‘public good’, one which needs prizing as a rich resource not just for today but for generations of communities to come. Today, when the marketisation of Higher Education is rife and universities might

increasingly be described as factories of knowledge production, Fruit Routes provides an oasis of communal generosity. In these dark times of climate change denial, when global politics is set to reverse ecological policies, it also allows us to consider how the University campus might challenge processes of corporatization and commodification and, in its place, activate notions of community, utopia, peace and environmentalism. In doing so, I would argue that it contributes to the continually shifting ‘polemic landscape’ of the campus. Since its inception, the School of the Arts has had a continuing relationship with Fruit Routes: in Spring 2012 I proudly planted one of the first fruit trees outside my office; in February 2015 we organised a ‘gonging’ workshop with improvising percussionist Walt Shaw who led a noisy procession around our newly planted trees in a frenzied celebration which harked back to ancient horticultural traditions. Fruit Routes has facilitated a dialogue around contemporary art practice’s engagement with sustainability and ecological issues and it has been both a catalyst and a resource for lectures, seminars and research, along with my own exploration and advocacy of eco-activisms. With a family history of urban foraging (my grandfather was a rag and bone trader in the 1930s), and having lived through the Sixties and Seventies when ‘self-sufficiency’ and Richard Mabey’s ‘food for free’ seemed, if naively, to offer a countercultural challenge to norms and systems of ownership and economics, the creation of foraging routes – not just on campuses, but in towns and cities – might just be a small but valuable step to freedom. So let’s plant generously, let’s cultivate these polemic landscapes and let’s share and celebrate with foragers, fruiterers and gleaners everywhere! Gillian Whiteley, Programme Director for Fine Art and Senior Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies, Loughborough University.


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