Foraging, Permaculture, and Dumpster Diving
Foraged miner's greens with a vinaigrette made from foraged citrus (Photo: J.H.)
Jacky Hayward | Chef's Blade
Last weekend, my friends at Forage SF organized a foraged dinner, and, ever since, I have been asked what foraged food actually is. Foraged food, boiled down to the essentials, is food that has been gathered from naturally-occurring places instead of, say, farms.
Forage SF is a foraged food co-operative, whose goal is to collect foraged foods both from the urban environment – for example, from fruit trees in backyards and sidewalks – but also from the surrounding Bay Area and distribute it to its members. The foraged food movement has grown out of a desire to challenge our dependence on industrial agriculture and to begin using the foods naturally available to us again.
For me, what is most interesting about foraged foods is the dialogue it creates with our agricultural system, not to mention the questions it raises concerning what classifies as “foraged”.
For this dinner I attended, Forage SF gathered the food from a variety of sources. Some of the greens – such as miner’s lettuce, mustard greens, and wild nettles – were growing naturally in a city park while other ingredients, like the acorns used in the acorn ice cream, were foraged by local foragers, such as FeralKevin. All of these ingredients were noticeably fresher and more flavorful than anything from the farmer’s markets I go to.
Personally, the most exciting aspect of these ingredients is that they grow naturally and without the interference of human cultivation. In addition, foraged foods grow sustainably in that they are part of the natural ecosystem already in place; foraging and consuming wild foods is thus part of the ecosystem itself as long as the consumption is not greater than the wild food supply. Herein, however, lies the catch: It is not possible to feed the world’s population on foraged food. Enter: Agriculture.
Currently, most of our food comes from monocultures, in which farms produce one type of crop over large areas of farmland. While agriculture’s use of monoculture has enabled us to feed our ballooning population, it has also led us to eat only a few food types. In addition, monoculture has caused massive crop failures, such as the Irish Potato famine, due to a crop becoming susceptible to a specific pathogen during a growing season. Permaculture, in comparison, seeks to design man-made systems after nature ecological systems. Polyculture, for example, grows multiple crops on the same agricultural space, mimicking plant ecosystems. While foraging wild foods will never be able to feed our large population, it does remind us of the importance of respecting the rules of the natural ecosystem.