Danielle Wright makes a day trip out of her family's fruit and vegetable shopping and discovers there are more options for 'picking your own' than she expected.
Whether at community gardens, pick-your-owns or in local flower beds, there is plenty of produce to be foraged.
It all started in Cornwall Park. We had a break from bike riding near the flower beds and found a huge pile of parsley planted in between the colourful flowers.
"Can you eat it?" my six-year-old son Henry asks and takes a big bite. For a very fussy eater, this is adventurous and he then pronounces his love of parsley, munching away happily. After six years of coaxing him to try new things, this tactile pick your own method is a breeze.
It's easy to think of picking your own food as something you do while collecting summer berries, but picking your own fruit and vegetables can be done all year round - through foraging, at community gardens or at stores set up for it.
On our way home, we stop at the Kelmarna Organic City Farm in Herne Bay to see if we can pick ourselves a salad for dinner. There among the most butterflies I've seen in Auckland outside Butterfly Creek, we find enough variety to pick all our ingredients, noticeably larger than store-bought options.
For dessert, we head to Windmill Orchards in Coatesville to pick our own peaches and nectarines. The shop sells fruit and vegetables but for a minimal fee you're also allowed access to the backyard orchards. "They have such a big garden," Henry says as we enter rows and rows of perfectly lined-up trees. After picking a bag full of peaches and nectarines he declares.
"This won't be enough for me."
We're all having fun plucking the fruit off the branches and pass another happy family with delighted children carrying full bags. They tell us locals buy seconds for chutneys and jams but advise us we should always wash the fruit first.
After all this outdoor shopping, we decide to take a break at Greenhithe's Wainoni playground. While the kids are playing, I notice rosemary growing in a bush and a small orchard with apples and pears.
Later that week, everywhere we look we stumble upon more wild herbs and fruit trees - parsley in Takapuna flowerbeds, more wild herbs in Devonport next to the playground, even rosemary growing outside a supermarket in Milford. Inside, it is selling for $4 a bunch.
Friends tell us about fruit trees at Cranwell Park in Henderson, olive trees in the Domain and on Devonport side streets, feijoa trees in Mt Albert, as well as some fruiting pecans in Waiatarua.
And while we will probably still head to the shop for our groceries most weeks, picking your own is a fun day out for families, helps children with food phobias and generally reminds us to stop taking our surroundings for granted. Foraging and picking your own fruit and vegetables is a great way to put some enjoyment back into weekly chores.
If you know where to look, free herbs and fruit are common in Auckland neighbourhoods and to encourage more to be planted, just remember the words of George Harrison: "All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much." Don't spoil it for everyone by being greedy, there's plenty to go around.
Where to start
Windmill Orchards $5 a kilo and an entry fee refunded against this to cover any fruit you may eat on the way round.
Many varieties of apple trees, as well as nectarines, plums, apricots, pears and peaches in season. 294 Coatesville Highway, Coatesville, open weekdays: 8.30am to 6pm, weekends and public holidays: 8.30am to 5.30pm. windmillorchards.co.nz
Auckland Botanic Gardens has an edible garden, and a herb garden and orchard are being established in the Potter's Children's Garden, but more to look at than to pick. It's a good starting place for ideas and advice for your own gardens. See Auckland Botanic Gardens website.
A list of community gardens can be found at ecomatters.org and for a koha, you may be able to buy some of the produce, but call first to make sure.
A New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map has been set up on Google Maps - a list of trees, public and private, are listed where the owners don't mind you picking everything from wild comfrey to lemons. It also has information on best time to pick.By Danielle Wright