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The 'Wildman' Forages for Tasty Weeds

The 'Wildman' Forages for Tasty Weeds

Sandy Bauers | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Steve Brill owes a good part of his success to a dandelion. That, and an irate New York parks commissioner who didn’t want him eating Central Park’s greenery.

It was 1986, and the now-famous forager – who roams yards and fields, eating things most people call weeds – was leading a wild foods tour in the park when two undercover agents arrested him. He was handcuffed, fingerprinted and charged with criminal mischief.

But the savvy Brill turned the arrest into opportunity. He called all the news outlets and wound up – on April 1, of all things – a topic for Dan Rather and many front pages. A sample headline: “The Man who Ate Manhattan.”

After that, his career took off, not the least because the parks commissioner “turned over a new leaf,” as Brill puts it, and hired him.

Now he works freelance, leading five or more tours a week. At some point he added “Wildman” to his moniker, a beard to his chin and a straw pith helmet to his head.

Last week, he made his first foraging foray into this region, leading about three dozen people on a trek around Horsham’s Pennypack Farm.

It’s a CSA – a subscription farm known as Community Supported Agriculture – and the irony of having Brill pluck edible weeds from between the rows of crops was nothing short of delicious.

“Our mission at the farm is to connect people to food and farming,” said farm manager Fred Beddall. Since it’s an organic farm – no herbicides – “we coexist with weeds.”

Within the “locavore” food movement, you could hardly get more local than this. Never mind “food miles.” Brill had hardly gone a few feet before he began extolling the virtues of the foxtail plant.