The Fruit Tree Project
The Lawrence Fruit Tree Project is just a few years old but is deeply rooted in the often touted American ethic of self-reliance, although the ‘self’ in this case should be prefaced by ‘neighborhood’ or ’community,’ since the project is aimed to benefit many more than the individual. Led by Byron Wiley, Skyler Adamson, Eric Farnsworth and Jason Hering with the volunteer help of many more, the project has begun to restore what was once common - harvesting fruit from trees right here in town. In just a few years, a dazzling variety of trees have been planted including a small orchard at 13th and Garfield. But before an apple or plum or pawpaw or persimmon or mulberry or elderberry or hazelnut or cornuskousa or jujube or Turkish hazel or gumiberry or juneberry or peach or Asian pear or European pear or tart cherry or Siberian peashrub could be legally picked, the city needed to be persuaded to change an old statute that outlawed the act considered until then as “Harming Plants.”
|Preparing to plant the orchard photo by E. Hampton|
In June of 2011, statute 14-303 was changed. But free right from the tree prompts questions for the hungry passerby used to paying cash for their produce. If the trees are planted in public, who owns and takes care of them? How much fruit can a person take? What happens to extra fruit?
The answer is that we who harvest the pears and paw paws and enjoy the shade and beauty of these growing trees are all implicated in their welfare. If we neglect them or take them for granted, they may die. If we hoard all the fruit for ourselves, others won’t have any. If there is an abundance, we need to pass it on or it will rot. In the clearest most practical way, restoring orchards to our commons illuminates and revitalizes the adage that ‘We share the fruits of our labor.’
The Little Library
The small free-standing book kiosk near the corner of 17th and Indiana holds only about thirty books. Not much of a selection until you actually browse the titles, which range from intriguing novels “ Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foers, to political manifestos “Civil Disobedience and Other Essays” by Henry David Thoreau, to Beat poetry “Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems” by Gary Snyder, all of them a reflection of the library’s chief curator, CJ Brune.
CJ and her husband Bill decided to make this little library after seeing a tv story about others doing the same in different parts of the country. It wasn’t such a stretch for them, since they have maintained a community library and meeting space inside their home for many years. By extending their collection and creating a branch of sorts outside, they hoped to attract the student, neighbor, delivery person, or meter reader who might not feel as comfortable knocking on their door.
Architecturally, the house shaped structure invites the curious by differentiating itself from other freestanding boxes for mail, newspapers, or bill collection. And if there was any doubt about its purpose, CJ’s son Gregor (a librarian by profession) has decorated its walls with painted vignettes that show a flamingo reading Darwin, a young man reading Aldous Huxley, and a goat reading Don Quixote. But even with this open invitation, the freedom to take a book still catches me off guard. I can’t help feeling a little bit like I’m stealing, which I’m sure says a lot about my indoctrination into the ideology of the market economy and private property.
The truth is that the success of this little library depends on us taking the books, reading them, sharing the stories they tell, and then returning the same or different titles for others to enjoy. The more we use the library, the greater its impact, and not only as a place to find reading material but also as a place to find company. The book kiosk and its modest assortment of titles act in a way like a watering hole for readers, attracting hungry minds to browse. And since this activity is happening in public, chance meetings occur, conversations arise, and people who once passed each other without even a nod become familiar, adding a new link to the chain of relationships that give texture to the neighborhood.
You’ve arrived in Funkytown (somewhere in Old West Lawrence tucked into a small bamboo grove) when you see the tiny banner, hanging over the menagerie of colorful curiosities, announcing its name and the straightforward suggestion, “Take something. Leave Something.”
The majority of offerings at this shrine / free flea market seem to be oriented toward young people – small toys, game pieces and other curios. That feels right since kids are most in tune with idea of gifts, their potential for storytelling, and how they signify bonds between people. After all, most kids don’t have credit cards or cash on hand to buy things. They are indebted to their caretakers and friends for both practical necessities and diversions. The gifts they give are gifts received and then passed on or ones made by their own hands.
That’s why at first glance, Funkytown might seem like just a jumble of broken bits and abandoned toy parts. It’s only when we begin to see the trinkets and random offerings from a kid’s perspective that we understand that those knickknacks are only as meaningful as we are imaginative. Their value is in direct proportion to the stories they carry and the stories we create for them. Like the Ruby Slippers in the Wizard of Oz, the magic of the stuff at Funkytown stagnates without our active conjuring.
Fruit, books, and toys, are the goods that move through these alternative exchanges. They nourish the body, mind, and sense of wonder, but their greatest value may be in how our giving and taking of them binds us together in new relationships predicated on good will, trust, and long-term reciprocity. By sharing and maintaining an orchard, a library, and a ‘funkytown,’ we challenge the assumption that chaos will ensue without strictly enforced rules that govern how goods are used and distributed.
What connects these three endeavors is their insistence on being public, free, and relatively unsupervised. They encourage a flow of good will against the prevailing current of anxiety and suspicion that’s led to building ever higher fences and installing security cameras on every corner. All three are cared for by a loose affiliation of those of us who frequent them and are therefore vulnerable to our misuse. In other words, there is risk inherent in trust. The trees will die without our care, the library will be empty if we don’t refresh the books, Funkytown will become a mere spectacle if we don’t participate, and the dumpster behind the League will return to being filled with garbage if we don’t renew the source of its wealth. They all rely on collaboration and an extended network of givers and takers in order to thrive. If all we do is take and not give, they will disappear. If all we do is give and not take, they will become overwhelmed and unmanageable. We provide the current that moves things along.