Sunday, July 4, 2010

Usufruct Revisited

Below is an old post from an old blog about usufruct from January 2009.  I decided to reproduce it here since just a few days ago the twins and I went to Dayton Park and picked mulberries from the trees overhanging the bike trail. 

Here is the old post:
So I recently discovered the concept of usufruct in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  As I understand it, it is an idea that dates back to the Romans in which a person can us use or benefit from another's property as long as the property isn't damaged.  Pollan writes about an experience in which he took cherries that hung over a tree into a family member's yard.  Pollan also describes places in his hometown, Berkeley, from which he can get fruit from publicly located trees.

Though I have traditionally been on the cautious side, my wife has readily enjoyed the benefits of the public cornucopia.  One of my earliest memories of this is camping at Craig Lake in the U.P. and finding some wild blueberries.  She, I, and another friend made blueberry pancakes, with the blueberries that survived our happy taste buds.  

Now, the twins and I take bike rides in the fall and pick mulberries from the trees along the Flint River Trail.  It makes for happy messy times.  I look forward to making it a foursome when our new one is old enough. 
On Friday, we went to Seven Lakes State Park and while having a snack before our hike, we found wild raspberries.  Besides being delicious, it's such a wonderfully tasty surprise to make such a find. 
Finds like these also remind me of how underused our land is.  Sometime people begin community gardens or plant gardens in their yards, but there is much more right outside our doors that we walk past and could easily take advantage of.  Go to a grocery store and pay a premium for "mixed greens" that include the recently popular dandelion green.  Why pay when they are growing in our yards?  Yes, one should find food that isn't sprayed with petrochemicals or toxins, but a quick look around the neighborhood and one can find them everywhere. (Feel free to come pick them from our chemical-free lawn.)
 Nearly every street in Flint has a mulberry tree or wild raspberries. Parks here are nearly all chemical-free, many have wild grapes, and all of them have dandelions.  We should take greater advantage of what is at our disposal.  When we plant something new in our yard, we try to make sure it's edible.  We now have two cherry trees, a small apple tree, black raspberries, blackberries, chive, tarragon, mint, and strawberries.  We also planted a more traditional vegetable garden with tomatoes and lots of other vegetables. 

I also relish these moments with my boys, in which they learn more about their environment, because when stop on our bike to eat mulberries or raspberries, we also look at other plants, bugs, birds, and animals.  We talk about the river and keeping everything as clean as possible.  We pick up trash if we see it, which is an easy, small step to keeping our community clean, all of which starts with getting off the bike to eat community berries.  Usufruct.

Maybe in a later post I'll tackle roadkill squirrel pelts to make shoes, but I doubt it.  


  1. One thing that saddens me, is the fact that our entire neighborhood uses pesticides. It's very disconcerting when we take walks and get a whiff of that bitter poison.

    The condition of a lawn is some kind of unwritten status symbol. I can't quite place my finger on it, but it's emblematic of how much one cares about our community.

    It's kind of "hood" pressure to have lawns so manicured that it should be preserved in what I think is green embalming fluid.

    I've convinced my husband to pay a bit extra for organic the organic stuff. The one draw back is that it doesn't prevent weeds from intruding on the lawn.So, we have to pull weeds.

    Hmmm, organic, huh? I discovered that it's really chicken poop. I think it's better to use it on the lawn than to fatten up cattle.Don't you think? Yeah, that's a bit of trivia that those beef eaters don't know about.

    If you eat any kind of meat, and that includes dairy products, make sure it's organic, even the milk is laced with hormones and antibiotics.

  2. It's really nice that you take your sons exploring. That's one of the things I miss about being a kid. Everything is "new".

  3. @bernieg: Yea, the neighborhood thing can be a problem. Ours is the same way. But the local parks don't spray, nor do the state parks.

    I agree with you on being a kid. I guess watching my sons discover these things is the next best thing. It's beautiful when I get to see the light of discovery come on.