Cities are trying to make better use of local food resources. A result of this effort is a movement to bring urban foraging from the margins to the mainstream. Take Melany Vorass Herrera for example who walks through a neglected patch of the city’s Golden Gardens Park littered with beer cans and searches for stinging nettles saying that getting stung is worth the trouble as these nettles are free, super healthy and make a delicious pesto. Herrera and other foragers have always worked within cities but on the frays and the local authorities have in most cases seen them as vandals.
But Melissa Poe an environmental anthropologist who has studied urban foragers observes an attitude change. As climate change, extreme weather events, rising fuel prices, terrorist activity have begun threatening the flow of food in urban areas cities are being forced to look to local resources to increase the resilience of their food supply, which means allowing more urban gardens and farms, and bringing back chickens and small livestock within city limits. Los Angeles recently affirmed the right to harvest fruit on public land. Boston, Chicago, and Baltimore have planted public orchards. Moreover foragers have played a significant role in restoring a forest just outside Tokyo.
Gail Savina, part of City Fruit, an organization that promotes the cultivation of urban food, estimates there are 100,000 pounds of unharvested fruit on private and public land in Seattle. Last year, City Fruit managed to pick one fifth of that amount in the form of figs, plums, apples, cherries and pears which went to local food banks. Savina says that this kind of foraging increases the resilience of food along with reducing the carbon footprint, explaining that “When you fly a pear from Chile to Seattle you’re gonna burn a lot of fuel,” she says. “And that’s gonna have a fairly significant impact on the climate. But when you pick the pear down the block, it’s not gonna have an impact on the climate.”
Walking around the city with the eyes of forager provides you with the opportunity of looking at the city like a large grocery store, from salad greens, fiery wild mustards, and sweet dandelion greens, to Young horsetail and bamboo shoots. Furthermore foraging is no longer an isolated activity, it has become a communal activity, for example Many in Seattle’s Southeast Asian communities gather each fall to collect Chestnuts from Queen Anne Boulevard’s stately street trees and in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood has a new food forest on its public land planted by highly enthusiastic foragers.
However, there are still environmental concerns regarding foraging as there have been incidents where foragers have interrupted the city’s restoration of its urban forests by stripping the land bare of its native plants. But, the emphasis this time around is on engaging and education foragers rather than cracking down on them, because according to Seattle parks spokesperson Dewey Potter, “…the more people understand about how the ecosystems work, the more respectful they will be of our parks.”