Urban Foraging for A Wild Cause


Lately those that leave the city life behind them in an attempt to live off the land are known as rewilders. They’re seeking an abundance of wild edibles available to them simply by stepping out of their cabin.

The other side of a “wilderness” experience occurs when many residents living in lower-income urban areas step out of their doors. Even if they do have the money to pay for nutrition-packed leafy plants, access to stores or farmers’ markets that carry them is often limited. After all, when 7-11 is your main neighborhood grocery source, you won’t find many fresh salad makings.

Enter “urban foraging.” While mainly a trend in high-end restaurants or a hobby of curious hipstersforaging can help change the urban landscape into a source of green healthy foods.

Civil Eats highlights one of these benefits with its profile on The Berkeley Food Institute’s research into the availability, nutritional value (and possible toxicity) of wild edibles in urban neighborhoods around the East Bay.

The project, aptly named Reaping without Sowing, tests the hypothesis that some urban “food deserts” are, in fact, an abundant, sustainable source of fresh, free, and nutritious vegetables—namely, “wild foods.”

Early on in the movement, Phillip Stark, chair of UC Berkeley’s Statistics Department, noticed the abundance of weeds growing in lower-income communities. He began to document and map (using mobile apps) the types of wild edibles that might be a freely available as a source of nutrition. Together Stark and his co-researcher Thomas Carlson, an ethnobotanist in UC Berkeley’s Department of Integrative Biology, have found an incredible variety and abundance of wild edibles—even in the midst of a record drought.

In addition to documenting the types of plants, they are also testing them for toxicity. The article goes onto explain...

So far, none of the toxins they’ve tested for have come close to surpassing acceptable threshold levels, with the exception of lead.”

Likewise, herbicides, which would be a big worry, haven’t shown up in the neighborhoods they are pulling samples from. This is probably due to the fact that the weeds they come across while foraging would be dead if herbicides had already been applied.

Although their research is nascent, and more testing is needed in regards to the nutritional value of individual wild weeds, the overall data is promising. It certainly gives a new perspective—and hope— to areas once regarded as food deserts that may, in fact, have access to free healthy greens. Carlson and Stark have themselves taken to adding the food they forage to their everyday meals, especially salads.

Students at Berkeley are encouraged to join in on the project by using the mobile app iNaturalist to crowd-source the data collection. In addition, a record of the wild edibles and information they have unearthed so far can be found at  http://forage.berkeley.edu.

PHOTO: The Falling Fruit Project


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs


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