Food Freedom

Maryland Man Fined $50 for Picking Berries in Park

A Maryland man received a $50 ticket for picking raspberries. The ticket charged him with "destroying/interfering with plants to wit: berries."

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Credit: Deanster1983 / photo on flickr

To me, nothing screams summer like picking and eating fresh berries. I know I'm not alone. Greg Visscher, head of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Young Republicans Club, has been picking berries with his family for years.

So it was with some degree of surprise that Visscher found himself confronted last month by a trio of county park police officers and handed a $50 ticket for "destroying/interfering with plants to wit: berries. Without a permit on park property."

The idea that the mere act of picking berries from a plant can be equated with "destroying" or "interfering with" a plant is bizarre. Picking berries (or tomatoes or apples, beans, peppers, or any other fruit or vegetable) does no harm to the flora upon which the food grows. The county's claimed need for a permit was news to Visscher—and to me. I live in Montgomery County, and just the day before Visscher was ticketed, I had picked raspberries in the county park nearest my home.

I've spoken at length with Visscher by email, both for this column and for a book I'm writing that focuses in part on food laws that prohibit sustainable food practices like picking wild berries. Visscher tells me was picking raspberries in Wheaton Regional Park, a public space near where I live in Bethesda, when an officer approached him and issued him the aforementioned $50 citation. Two more officers soon appeared. Visscher also tells me the police made reference to a need to obtain a nebulous "permit" for harvesting berries—both verbally and on the ticket itself—a permit neither Visscher nor I have been able to identify.

I spoke this week with Lt. Rick Pelicano of the park police, who had no information on Visscher's ticket or on the need for a foraging permit. Lt. Pelicano pointed me to the relevant rules, which pertain to a county prohibition on  "destroy[ing] or interfer[ing] in any way with any… plants" on public property.

Tickets like the one Visscher received are rare.

"Charges under this section are infrequent," Pelicano told me by email. "Researching the last year we found three incidents that were cited related to this. Two resulted in a citation [while] one was a written warning."

How could Visscher—or I—know that the county views picking some berries without a permit as verboten?

"There is no sign anywhere saying that berries cannot be harvested," Visscher tells me. "To my knowledge, there is nothing in the park that even highlights this." I could not locate any such signage on a visit to the park on Thursday. A park staffer I spoke with could not point me to any.

According to my reading of Maryland law, any such prohibition must be posted conspicuously. State code requires parks to "post the regulations outside each park headquarters building," among other notice requirements. It would be a violation of due process requirements, in my view, for the county to ticket anyone without first posting such notice.

Regardless of the outcome of Visscher's case, the story stretches far beyond Maryland. Foraging has grown in popularity in recent years. But so too have efforts to limit the practice.

Visscher's ticket for picking berries is hardly an outlier. In 2013, "an old man barely making it on Social Security" was ticketed $75 for picking dandelion greens in a Chicago-area park. The man, John Taris, had picked the greens to make a salad.

New York City cracked down on foraging in Central Park in 2011 amid concerns the park couldn't sustain the growing number of people hauling off ginger, mushrooms, and even fish. That may make sense.

"It's not difficult to distinguish between sustainable foraging, where a person like Greg Visscher harvests berries, nuts, fruits, mushrooms, seaweed, or some other renewable resource for their personal consumption, and foraging that involves real destruction of public property," I told the Daily Caller's Guy Bentley, a former Reason intern, earlier this month. "Ban the latter."

Also, err on the side of letting people be people. Soccer and baseball players trample and kill grass while playing in parks, but there's no concerted move to ban their activities. Nor should there be.

If the volume of foraging is an issue—if people are simply snatching up so many wild foods that they're damaging flora and fauna—then a park could issue a limited number of foraging permits. But banning foraging outright makes no sense, particularly when it means prohibiting the picking of perennial fruits like raspberries that would otherwise go to waste. A blanket ban on foraging is a bad idea that takes the public out of public parks.

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  1. How could Visscher?or I?know that the county views picking some berries without a permit as verboten?

    Uh, when three-times-as-many-as-it-takes armed bureaucrats surround you and give you a ticket, that’s how you know what you’re doing is forbidden by someone. It’s not rocket surgery.

    1. We should stop feigning outrage at this stuff and just give up.

      This is how banana republics work. Arbitrary rules to seize the wealth of the citizens where convenient.

      ….and I’ll bet that warning was given to a good looking girl.

      Now we have retarded TSA agents walking the streets.

  2. Behind the house where I grew up was Wayne National forest,we picked berries ,nuts,mushrooms and paw paws.The old rail road tracks that were taken by the state was always good for a couple gallons on berries a trip.All public land.What’s the deal,I know it was the 1970’s,but,hell,have things changed that much? Duh,I guess.Here near the Ohio river near Belpre I hunt mostly on private land for doves and water fowl,the Ohio in the winter.Never had a problem.We need more ,not less,private land.

    1. What’s a “paw paw”?

      1. Hard to explain.it’s a wild fruit that grows in mostly northern states and reminds you of a banana.

        1. I like the vocal effects.

      2. An Indiana banana.

      3. Something you put in a basket for some reason or other.

        1. …probably on the same day that you shoot, clean, and dress a few black bears and mountain lions.

    2. Be careful. In Washington State they charge people with Criminal Trespass for walking across railroad tracks.

      1. I encountered troops of railroad employees garbed in reflective gear when I was walking and running for exercise along railroad tracks in Pennsylvania. They were REALLY upset, threatening me with arrest and prosecution. Who knew? I played stupid, telling them I was from out of town and out of State, so they let me go.

  3. We own the Earth and all it’s bounty. We own your land because we can take it if we have a crony who will pay us to take it. We can take what we want, any time, without any reason and without regret. We are legion. Don’t touch my fucking berries. You got that, pissant?

    1. Is that you Trump?

      1. Here, enjoy a video

  4. Three cops to make sure the guy understood who was boss.

    The more numerous the laws…something, something.

  5. How could Visscher?or I?know that the county views picking some berries without a permit as verboten?

    This is what modern democracy looks like: completely unmoored from any sense of justice, fairness, or reasonableness:

    The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is — a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice.

    In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.

    1. So two wolves and a sheep huh?

      1. Dinner time bitches!!

  6. What I would say to the park ranger:

    “You didn’t build that”

    1. It was Boo Boo

  7. Nopicking berries, not setting up lemonade stands, permit for this, inspection for that. Government is a fungus.

    1. If your selling fungus their’s a law for that too. BTW,got a huge crop of morels this year,most on state land.

    2. Nah, fungi are useful occasionally. Mushrooms for eating, yeast for making bread…

      Government is a like a flesh-eating virus, and worst of all, “doctors” believe that the way to cure it is by infusing more of the same virus.

    3. Not only a fungus, it’s the hallucinogen of the masses!

  8. “How dare you touch a deer in the King’s Forest, peasant?!”

    1. Did you know that shooting a deer, near you house ,in the eye with a .22 will drop it in it’s tracks? Or so I heard.

      1. I also heard that deer tastes delicious as sausage, jerky, or steaks. Possibly also as a ground meat patty.

  9. Land of the free. Home of the brave.

  10. Your tax dollars at work:

    “Latest investor in wearable technology: the feds”
    […]
    “The Department of Defense awarded the FlexTech Alliance, a tech research consortium, $75 million over five years to develop and manage the country’s newest Manufacturing Innovation Institute in San Jose, the first of several similar federally funded institutes to be located on the West Coast.”
    http://www.sfgate.com/business…..472376.php

  11. How dare these people. Don’t they realize they need to rely on the gov’t welfare programs to get “free” food?

    1. Food collected from the wild for free is awesome. Usually, got to work for it though. Which is likely why it tastes so good.

      1. You can drive along the front range here and pick gallons of wild raspberries with out too much work. Keep an eye out for wild onions, scallops, radishes, strawberry, and rose hips, too.

        1. Absolutely. I’m located on one of the fingertips of the North American Taiga. Much of the same delicacies free for the picking here. [ Well, free for the time being, that is. ]

      2. I hear r free range progressives don’t taste so good, but their pelts are sometimes valuable.

  12. This land is MY f**king land This land is MY f**king land land
    From California to the New York island;
    From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
    This land was made for Me so keep the F**k off…

  13. He should’ve just raided Michelle’s White House veggie garden. The Obama’s dine exclusively on imported Kobe beef and Iranian Beluga caviar, so she’s not using it anyway.

      1. Not at all. I just returned from an emergency call. My wildlands fire suppression skills were called on to save a group of homes sitting in the path of a local raging forest fire.

        Perhaps, I’ll be getting drunk later, once the evening conditions of still, cool and higher humidity permit.

        1. Okanogan?

          1. Goat Rock Complex: Klatawa

    1. Saying someone should raid the White House is how Reason gets subpoena’d.

      1. Yeah, because retards are unable to discern sarcasm or irony.

        1. jcalton = epic retard

  14. In Georgia we do this for our local parks:

    http://www.keepgeorgiabeautifu…..hipper.asp

    1. We need this program in Washington DC and every state capital.

  15. He should argue in court that he was planning to come back to defecate the seeds onto the ground.

    1. Not without a permit, he isn’t!

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  17. If they conspicuously posted all the rules and regulations it would block out the sun and all the plants would die.

    1. Keepin’ the berries SAFE for the bacteria of decay, we is!

      Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

      Government loves me, This I know,
      For the Government tells me so,
      Little ones to GAWD belong,
      We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
      Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
      Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
      And gives me all that I might need!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      DEA, CIA, KGB,
      Our protectors, they will be,
      FBI, TSA, and FDA,
      With us, astride us, in every way!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
      My Nannies tell me so!

      1. Very, very nice. Comforting even.

      2. Hootenanny!

  18. “everything not expressly permitted is forbidden” is what they’re working towards.
    This is Liberal Fascism,it’s what you get when you elect DemocRATs/”progressives” to office.
    No more freedom in America.

  19. Petty fines like this on nonviolent citizens who are doing nothing wrong are a feature, not a bug.

  20. He wasn’t ticketed for picking berries, he was ticketed for being in sight when some shithead junior-varsity cops decided to throw a “respeck mah authoritah!” fit. Fuck them, and fuck whoever wrote that stupid regulation.

    I hope he takes it to court.

    -jcr

  21. To put this in proper perspective remember that this is Montgomery County, Maryland which is, and has been for decades, under the control of the looney left and is the same jurisdiction that threatens parents for having the audacity to allow their offspring to go to the playground by themselves.

    1. I was stopped by a cop in a state park in Maryland for taking a bundle of grass I wanted to use for a decoration. When I offered to put it back he said that ‘Well, actually, it’s an invasive species we are trying to remove so you can take it.” Guess I am lucky I was pleasant and apologetic or he may have capped my ass. I was so fucking happy to leave that liberal progressive state.

  22. Welcome to Maryland. Leave all rights at the state line.

  23. Who tickets the birds? Or is it Federal jurisdiction because they mat shit the seeds across state lines?

  24. “How could Visscher?or I?know that the county views picking some berries without a permit as verboten?”

    Ignorantia juris non excusat.

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse. While a post hoc examination of Maryland law requiring prohibitions to be clearly posted is fine, for those who understand the law, and if Visscher did he would have strongly suspected that at best, the offending government agent was misapplying an ordinance, and at worst the ordinance itself is a misapplication of law and unconstitutional.

    If Visscher understood the law he would have been cognizant of the express restraints the Maryland Constitution places on government agents, beginning with, and most importantly, the Declaration of Rights. Visscher would know that the inhabitants of Maryland are entitled to the Common Law of England which has long recognized the right of the people to forage on public lands for personal use of foods. Visscher would also know that the Maryland Constitution is express in its echoing of the 9th Amendment reminding government officials that the enumeration of certain rights within their constitution cannot be used to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.

    1. After reading Chapter V Section 21 of the Montgomery Park regulations Visscher would have confirmed that the citing government agents misapplied an ordinance and knowing the law, Visscher would know that the courts overwhelmingly favor as applied challenges over statutory challenges. Visscher would know to enter a motion to dismiss for want of subject jurisdiction and would be as ruthless as needed to ensure gaining that specific dismissal, as it then becomes the smoking gun for the, at the very least, the citing government agent who, because of a lack of jurisdiction, was obviously not acting officially but instead upon their own personal beliefs and as we all know…ignorance of the law is no excuse.

      On a federal level, that citing officer committed a felony by denigration of right while acting under color of law. Under Maryland law, that person who issued the citation is guilty of abuse of process. Holding the offending person or persons accountable is in the public’s best interest. Of course, that means first securing that dismissal.

  25. It sounds like it’s not a berry good idea to go foraging in Maryland.

    1. Sorry for the bad joke; somebody had to take the low hanging fruit.

      1. Guv-Mint Almighty is just obeying the commandment…

        “Be ye therefor fruitful, and multiply your powers.”

  26. I want to see one try this in a forest. With a bear.

  27. The King does not allow the peasants to pick and eat his berries.

  28. Police Officers who participate in this crap, including handing on bogus tickets, demonstrate why Americans no longer trust the police. It is widely portrayed that only Black Americans or Hispanic Americans, or criminals, fear the police. The fact is that nearly every American fears the police.

    Who is not careful when stopped by a traffic cop to make sure he does not see you make sudden moves? Who is not worried about what that cop might do?

    Who does not get an increase in heart rate if a cop stops you on the street? And experience relief when he walks away? Does every business REALLY buy stickers to support the police whatever association out of a feeling of gratitude or civic duty? Or, do a lot of those stickers get sold by a guy carrying a gun who could either make your life difficult at some point, or fail to “protect” you as much as the guy next door?

    I realize that sometimes men (with an overload of testosterone) can get confrontational with a cop. I also realize it is that feeling of needing to push back against the display of force the cop represents that causes this emotional reaction.

    We are already in the beginning stages of a police state where anyone, at any time, can be charged with something and arrested by cops increasingly equipped like special forces.

  29. Having grown up in Montgomery County, it is stories like these, or taking kids away from parents who let them go to the park w/of hovering over them, or ticketing 8yo lemonade vendors, or trying to ban smoking in your own home, that reminds me why I will never again live in the county or state of my youth. After NYC and the Bay Area, easily the most oppressive paragon of pointless progressivism in the country.

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  32. We should stop feigning outrage at this stuff and just give up.

    This is how banana republics work. Arbitrary rules to seize the wealth of the citizens where convenient.

    ….and I’ll bet that warning was given to a good looking girl.

    Now we have retarded TSA agents walking the streets.

    I can’t wait for the Zombie fight to break out between the cop zombies and the citizen zombies. They won’t even know why they are fighting.

  33. I pick mulberries, sometimes on gov’t property. NYPD, Parks, or Transit police have never bothered me about that. Mulberries are generally treated as a nuisance by whoever the property belongs to.

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  35. Wow, $50 for this? I wonder if this is a common practice there or something out of the line.

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