Foraging…Not as Intimidating as You Might Think!

According to the Oxford dictionary, to “forage” is to “search widely for food or provisions”.  For most people, the word conjures up scouring forest floors for mushrooms, or foragingharvesting colourful berries that may (or may not) be edible.  And therein lies the conundrum.

A few generations ago, most rural AND urban dwellers knew a thing or two about finding food.  Living off the land was more than a casual pastime, and people were quite knowledgeable about which berries, plants, roots, and yes, mushrooms, were edible, and which ones were not.  Today, most of us have become so far removed from the need to source out food – because it is so readily available in stores – that foraging doesn’t even occur to us, even if there is a smorgasbord of culinary delights in our own backyard.  As well, our personal knowledge about which plants are safe and which poisonous has pretty much disappeared.

Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of foraging, with stories in the news about people finding edibles in public parks, including Central Park, New York.  Our own experience this summer was to see someone harvesting Saskatoon berries from a municipal planting.  (This fellow was actually doing the town a service, because the plentiful berries were otherwise dropping to the ground, where they were being stepped on by passersby, and staining the sidewalk.)

My good friends, Wendy and Eric Brown, of Maine, U.S.A., have just published their first collaborative effort, called, “Browsing Nature’s Aisles, A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs”.  I was privileged and honoured to be asked to review it for them, prior to it’s release this month.  Here’s what I thought of it:

“I was thrilled to be sent an advance copy of this book to preview.  The way it was organized, the engaging writing style, and the subject matter made it hard to put down at times.

As a farmer, I try to be in tune with Nature, to work with the soil, the animals and the weather. And so, I have alot in common with Wendy and Eric and their foraging exploits. This book clearly demonstrates their respect for Mother Nature and the bounty she can provide for us. Their passion to learn as much as they could about foraging never compromised being good stewards of the land and it’s inhabitants, for which I was grateful. Helpful suggestions like “The Rule of Thirds”, and food safety reminders (such as “always confirm plant identification with three sources”) make it an excellent resource for those who are interested in learning to forage themselves.

Today’s food safety issues were outlined in a highly informative, non-hyping way. GMO’s were clearly and accurately explained, and they voiced some valid concerns regarding the current Big Ag approach to farming.

Although it has many foraging tips and guidelines, this is no ordinary forager’s guidebook. Instead, it is a wonderful recounting of a family’s adventures, failures and bonding times as they make the effort to look for food in their own backyard and (slightly) beyond. Wendy and Eric’s sense of humour, their delightful family, and their humble respect for Nature make this book a welcome addition to anyone’s home library!”

As you can see, I loved it!  And their daughters were equally excited about the family receiving their first box of final copies….

girls

Wendy and Eric have spent the last few days at the Mother Earth News Fair, giving talks about their book and other adventures.  I’m sure they will have lots to tell on their Facebook page.  After reading their book, I found myself having a second glance around our own yard and neighbourhood.  I was even prompted to call a former garden centre owner, to see if she would mind if I harvested the beautiful crab apples in her garden, because I was pretty sure they would not be picked otherwise.  We now have some delicious crab apple spread in the pantry!

So if you want to be inspired, educated and entertained, why not pick up a copy for yourself?  It would be a great  gift for any “foodie”.  Who knows, you, too, may start nibbling at the dandelions and plantain in your backyard!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carol Kraft on September 26, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    thanks for the report. Are there good photos to identify the plants? Glad you mentioned them including good stewardship. It is a concern for me since a friend noted fiddleheads and leeks being excavated along the Grand in a way that permanently damaged the growth. With knowledge comes responsible , respectful foraging within the delicate balance. After all animals rely on this food source too.

    Reply

  2. @ Julie – thank you. I’m truly humbled … and so thrilled that you liked our book ;). It continues to be an amazing way of life – especially this week, while I’m reading the fiction “One Second After” and the author is describing all of the people who are starving. My hope is that more people will learn to forage – at least a few things – because it’s fun, but also because knowing two or three plants, per season, to forage could be really important, too.

    @ Carol – the book isn’t a how-to foraging book, and so there aren’t a lot of pictures that could be used to identify the plants we foraged ;).

    Reply

  3. this is great!! It reminds me of the profound luck my husband and I had in Portland, Maine, this past September, when we found 3 huge luscious hen-of-the-woods or maitake mushrooms growing in a local park. We hesitated for just a moment, and then harvested and bundled them up promptly. When we got them home, we had a feast! it is wonderful what can be found if you have your eyes open, and have a little know-how.

    Reply

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