Leveraging Local Ecosystems
Last Updated on January 16, 2021
The Awesomeness of Foraging
What comes to mind when you hear the word foraging? Perhaps your mind conjures images of a bushwhacker living off the land, hunting, fishing and harvesting fruits, berries, and mushrooms in the deep wilderness. This can certainly qualify as foraging, but did you know it’s also possible to forage close to home? At its core, foraging is simply the act of wandering or searching for food or provisions.
It may seem difficult to do in an urban landscape, but in reality the land offers us so many nourishing gifts – even in cities! These gifts provide us with a range of benefits. That’s in addition to reducing our need to purchase food of course! Foraging can also help diminish our dependence on greenhouse grown and imported foods, while providing us with a sweet way to practice sustainability and stewardship for the earth. So let’s dive in a little further into the roots of modern-day foraging to learn how anyone can leverage their local ecosystem.
What is Modern Foraging?
Before we begin, it’s important to acknowledge that foraging is steeped in a rich history, tracing back to the first peoples of the land you inhabit. Indigenous people have been foraging the land for food and medicine since time immemorial! Their presence and wisdom persists to this day.
It’s my belief that a good first step when learning to forage is to also learn more about the Indigenous People of your area. Ideally from Indigenous sources.
Furthermore, foraging has been practiced for years by those with low-income status as a means of putting enough food on the table. It should serve as a reminder that foraging itself is an act of sharing – both resources and knowledge. Foraging isn’t new. Its history and traditions run deep. As a result, I find it important to always practice gratitude and respect when foraging. I’ll describe exactly how we can do this a little later on.
Here are the top 3 reasons everyone should forage (at least a little):
1. It Lowers Your Food Budget
The average Canadian spends around $200 per person on food in one month. This number tends to be even higher for those of us living in cities! For people in a lower income bracket, foraging can be a good way to help bring this number down.
Regardless of your income bracket, let’s face it. We can all use a little savings, and some fresh local providence to boot!
2. It Reduces Our Dependency On Imported Foods
It’s no secret that much of the fresh produce lining grocery store shelves is not locally grown. In addition, it often requires high resource input in order for it to be grown during suboptimal growing seasons in Canada. For example, the carbon footprint of bananas incorporates not only the inputs needed to grow the fruit, but also the emissions from transportation and ripening.
By leveraging local ecosystems (and subsequently preserving food items to last into the winter months), we can reduce our dependence on these less-sustainable food options.
3. It Establishes & Encourages a Connection with the Earth
This is perhaps the most important benefit. By foraging, we practice gratitude for the Earth’s gifts. We can learn how to give back in a way that benefits the local environment. What’s more, we can pass this message on to others, such as friends and family, who join us in our foraging adventures. Indeed, it can represent a great opportunity for teaching children!
On our foraging journey, we’re also presented with a chance to care for the Earth through the removal and use of invasive or harmful species. I will share a few examples of this in an upcoming post!
How To Get Started
Now that I’ve hopefully peaked your interest in foraging, you may be wondering, “how do I get started?” My 3 top tips for starting out are:
1. Learn Your Local Ecosystems
The good news about foraging is that it can be done just about anywhere! That includes cities. A good place to start is asking yourself what access to green spaces do you have. Do you have access to urban forests/naturalized areas? City parks? A yard? A friend’s yard? All of these are places where you could potentially find wild edible plants. If you’re feeling stumped already not to worry! A great way to learn where you can forage in your area is to connect with local foragers.
This can be done in a few ways – including virtually! Foraging focused Facebook groups are a great place to start. Check if your local area already has a group. If they don’t, why not start one and invite as many people as possible to join!
Other nature focused groups and organizations in your area may also be a good resource. They may run workshops, webinars or online courses focused on foraging where you could learn local hotspots for searching for wild edible plants. Once you’ve located a few options on where to forage a next good step is . . .
2. Start By Learning 1 Plant REALLY REALLY Well!
In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the endless possible plants to learn, I suggest learning one plant really really well first. Choose a plant that’s easy for you to find and identify. Then learn everything about it!
That includes the lots of different ways to cook or eat it. Once you feel comfortable with one plant, start adding more and more. Slowly but surely you’ll have a whole list of plants to forage!
3. Become Familiar with Safe & Sustainable Harvesting
This is a big one. Many plants out there are safe and healthy, but that’s not a guarantee. Some plants can make you sick, or are even deadly. This is why step 2 is so important! You never want to forage a plant that you can’t be 100% sure is safe. Practice caution and you’ll be just fine.
Another important safety precaution to take is considering how the plant has been treated before you arrived to harvest it. Is this an area that is often treated with pesticide? Watch for signs that indicate an area may not be safe to harvest from, and consider foraging with a buddy so that you can always have a second opinion when it comes to matters of safety.
An equally important concern is how to harvest sustainably. There are a few points to consider here. First is to consider what you are harvesting. Is this an invasive species? Is there a lot of this plant in this area?
Sharing is Caring!
These questions can help you in deciding how much of the plant to take. In general, it is always good practice never to take all of a resource. Just take what you need. Leave some of the plant behind, so that it may reproduce again next year and save some for other foragers to take, or for other wild creatures to share in as well!
Another important consideration is if you can take from this area. Some private owned areas may not allow foraging, so always check with the land owner to understand the rules of foraging on their land. This goes for public parks and conservation areas too!
Finally, an important aspect of sustainable harvesting is showing gratitude and giving back. You can show gratitude to the plant or the land in many different ways. Such as advocating for the wild spaces in your area and keeping them safe from development. You can also try planting native seeds along the way, or offering water where you can (should you see a need). It really depends on the plant, but there may be ways you can help it out.
4. BONUS TIP – My Favourite Resources
Winter is a challenging time for foraging as not much grows. However, it’s still a really great time to begin your foraging journey because you can begin your learning through reading field guides, blogs, joining local foraging groups on Facebook, or following foraging-focused social media accounts! A few of my favourite resources include:
- Alexis Nikole (@blackforager)
- Foraging and Feasting (@Foragingandfeasting)
- Foraging & Wildcrafting Hub (@wildfoodlove)
Facebook groups & pages
Note: These are specific to my area, so I’d recommend searching for foraging groups local to you! Local nature groups may also have opportunities to participate in foraging workshops (once it is safe to do so). These can be a great way to meet local foragers and learn from your local experts!
A handful of various other ways to learn if you’re not on Facebook or Instagram! There are LOTS of resources available, these are just a few to get you started!
- Learn your Land – YouTube Channel
- Peterson’s Guide – Book
- www.eattheinvaders.org – website
A final note on choosing a resource. Although the above mentioned resources are all great, nothing beats making a personal connection with an experienced forager and learning from hands-on experience. Given the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, now is not the best time to be gathering and meeting new people, but I would highly recommend this in the future when it is safe to do so.
Also, virtual connections are a great way to get a personal connection in a safe way! Check out your local nature groups. There are conservation authorities, parks, etc. See if anyone is running webinars or online courses about foraging and wild edible plants! This can be a great jumping off point in helping to facilitate meeting others who forage, developing connections and friendships so that eventually we can all forage together in person again.
Final Foraging Notes
I hope this post inspires you to get outside, learn more about the land you live on and the wild edible plants you share that land with! Best of luck in your foraging endeavours, and stay tuned for a future post featuring some favourite recipes that showcase common wild edible plants!
Editing by Marc-Antoni Tarondo