I just got back from a field-trip with my university to Morocco. It was an incredible experience. But what I want to talk (write) about today is not the sun or the spices or the camels or snake-charmers, nor the invigorating thrill of leaving Europe for the first time, but the orange trees.
In the city of Marrakech, the streets outside the central medina are lined with orange trees. They’re very beautiful and they smell amazing, like someone passing by has a stylish citrus perfume that lingers after they’ve gone. But what I was more excited about was the possibility of abundant fruit. Seeing as the trees were in a public space and there were many poor people who could do with a free snack, I thought maybe the oranges were free for the picking: a civic resource. Upon asking our guide, I found out that for some ungodly reason they weren’t edible oranges, they were some bitter un-eatable variety.
I have no idea why, and it seems like a lost opportunity to me. I’ve always thought cities would be much improved with a sprinkling of fruit trees, lining avenues and adorning parks. I mean, trees already make oxygen, and you can’t really get anything more useful than that. When you consider they also absorb carbon, look pretty and offer food and shelter to wildlife, it’s a done deal. But while you’re at it, why not sweeten the deal with a bounty of fresh fruit?
In the UK and all around the world, we could have local councils and community groups get on a fruit-tree-planting-mission and tick off a tonne of jobs in one go. It’s really important that the fruit be free for local people to pick and eat though. That’s the beauty of the scheme. People shouldn’t be allowed to hog the harvest or take away bagfuls to sell, but they should be able to have their fill. Allowing something to be free does require bursting out of that sad old everything-is-for-sale mentality that seems to pervade our everyday lives. I realise that would be kinda difficult for some people to get their heads around, but I happen to think it’s a nice idea. It would improve poorer people’s chances of getting plenty of fresh fruit, which as a student I happen to know can be expensive. It’d also cut into our food miles and boost food security. Considering the UK imports around 90% of its fruit*, a little action wouldn’t go amiss.
And could it really be more obvious that fruit trees might as well produce edible fruit?
I don’t know what those Moroccan town-planners were thinking, but I bet if they’d done a survey close to 100% of people would have opted for free delicious oranges over useless inedible ones.
* Statistic from The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith.