on foraging and the legality of it

A recent article on the New York Times, appearing front page, is casting light on the practice of foraging, the growing reality of it, and the stress that might bring to a particular ecosystem.

Interestingly the article has been picked up by a number of fellow naturalist on the web, who like yourself, offer foraging tours.

Reading the article itself one wonders at what level anyone should feel the need to reply, as it comes across as the usual faction-fuelling excercise by tabloid media writers, selecting snippets of statements which most define contrasting views of what should be done on a particular topic.

Two people known to you have been mentioned in the article, Steve Brill and Leda Meredith, both keen defenders of nature and expert foragers. You really appreciated the comment of Leda on her blog arguing that if rangers and gardeners feel like their park are being over-harvested then an emphasis should be put on education rather than legislation.
But then again, as Marie Viljoen, a garden designer who writes the foraging column for Edible Manhattan argues, parks officials were overstating the problem: “It’s a little alarmist to think that a park is going to be mowed down like a herd of deer went through”.

Several responses on facebook, twitter and blogs sprouted up from the article, all of which (as far as you could find) stating different takes of similar concerns:

  • Urban foraging is happening and it will increase, due to a number of factors, mainly a new tendency to eat locally, and the reality of a ever more expensive food supply chain (this is particularly true in the USA).
  • The work done by responsible foraging guides will only make sure more and more responsible harvesting takes place in parks and wilderness areas, stressing the important aspect that expert forager know very well, never overharvest.
  • The focus of foraging is by far abundant populations: plant clusters that quite often overshadow others and suffocate more fragile plantings. This work should be seen as beneficial, and a helping hand to gardeners who try to control ‘weeds’ in a particular environment.
  • Below a few of the snippets of the article itself and the variety of responses:

    “If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we’re not going to have any chipmunks,” said Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages Central Park.

    Lisa Foderaro in the New York Times

    “It also helps that the two most commonly foraged plants are dandelions and garlic mustard, which happen to be very invasive and fast growing. I’d say invasives make up the bulk of what’s taken out of Prospect Park and probably most city parks. So when it’s done right, it’s actually beneficial and environmentally friendly.”
    Leda Meredith, in an interview by Sarah Schmidt, on OneEarth

    “[..]the phenomenon is on the rise, and reports that City Parks officials wish it weren’t, citing indiscriminate cityfolk who overharvest edibles. But pro weed eaters, including Wildman Steve Brill, and Leda Meredith, often emphasize invasives—and teach their pupils to do the same.”
    Gabrielle Langholtz on Edible Manhattan

    “[..]we feel that foraging, on the whole, is still a great activity to encourage. It brings us into contact with nature, exposes us to forgotten and wild flavors, and may ultimately increase New Yorkers interest in preserving their parks, community gardens and other outdoor spaces that could grow food.”
    Brian Halweil on Edible East End

    “[..]the majority of the plants I forage in the parks are invasives that are actually crowding out some of the potentially threatened native plants. And when I teach foraging, I always emphasize sustainability issues such as factoring whether a plant is abundant or rare into the decision of whether or not to harvest”
    Leda Meredith, on Leda’s Urban Homestead blog

    “[..]Anyone with any foresight can see that as the U.S. economy continues to crumble, foraging is going to continue to increase in its appeal. And in a country where most people cannot afford their medical bills, a revival of wildcrafting medicinal herbs will follow, too.”

    Beck Lerner on First Ways

    So with this in the back of your mind you are about to embark in a two months long series of wildcrafting tours, teaching to the willing learner the pleasures and dangers of foraging in the city, see here for a full list of possibilities..


    More to come

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