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.

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