Most of us equate food security with supporting community gardens and urban farms. But there is a vast cornucopia of nourishing free food already growing abundantly in our parks, neighborhoods and backyards—right now. Food that could be meaningfully and significantly supplementing the dietary needs of community residents and families—vitally enhancing food security.
That’s why we want to encourage Victoria’s mayor and city council to consider adding a new initiative, Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging to Section 8 of the draft Strategic Plan to “Enhance and Steward Public Spaces, Green Spaces and Food Systems”.
The Eating: Wild Community Supported Initiative (EWSCI) is composed of a coalition of wild food educators, First Nation indigenous food experts, wild food artisans, and chefs, ethnobotanists, ecologists and environmentalists, food security organizations and wild food enthusiasts. The EWSCI has two prongs, a) developing resources for wild food community education and b) forming partnerships between foragers, community groups promoting food security and local government, parks and urban farms.
Our mission is to give wild foods a place at our tables and a place of their own in our emerging local food systems, the “agri-hood” of community gardens, urban farms, boulevard gardens and food forests, that enable community residents and families in their local environments to feed and nourish themselves.
The Eating Wild CSF Initiative seeks to:
- Support wild food education and community educational events in tandem with local community centers and city parks, to teach residents not only how to safely identify, sustainably harvest wild foods, but to how to prepare, preserve and cook them as well. This would be accomplished through Wild Food Walks, Wild Food Community Kitchens, Wild Food Dinners, Wild Food Festivals etc. Community Wild Food Guides and Maps could also be developed.
- Set aside protected spaces in City parks for community food foraging. Currently foraging is not permitted in city parks. The Eating Wild CSF Initiative requests that community foraging pilot projects be set up in local parks and public green spaces. These areas will be chosen in consultation with city naturalists to minimally impact endangered plants and bio-systems such as Garry Oak ecosystems. We will also seek to form pilot partnerships with local urban farms, to organize events in which foragers could help farmers cut costs by weeding their fields.
- Promote the health of wild plants and green spaces by reducing the expensive use of herbicides in our local parks for invasive plant control. We encourage foragers to form partnerships with parks to keep invasive plants under control by harvesting them instead-like this garlic mustard “Pest to Pesto Festival” – and many others popping up across North America.
Why Wild Foods?
1) Vital Food Supplement
Today more than ever, as the nutrient levels of our food supply plummet and food prices skyrocket—we need wild foods. Through industrial agriculture we have not only stripped our cultivated fruit and vegetables of important nutrients to satisfy our taste for sweeter and starchier foods, our soils have become so over-farmed that they are depleted of the critical nutrients we need to thrive. However, wild foods—brimming with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients and antioxidants in such short supply in our conventional diet—are the world’s most nutritionally potent superfoods.
Far from a recent food ‘trend’, wild foods once constituted a kind of “medicinal cuisine” enjoyed by our ancestors around the world. Even after agriculture was well-established, wild foods continued to be consumed for centuries for their health-promoting properties. As herbalists have long known, many wild foods are so chock full of healing nutrition they are a veritable medicine. And many will tell you that it is no coincidence that modern diseases have run rampant as wild foods disappear from our diet.
Wild foods are the originators of all fruits, grains and vegetables, and as author of The Green Pharmacy, James Duke, PhD, reminds us, wild foods are the “plants that our ancestors ate—that humans evolved to eat”. By eating wild, we are eating unadulterated, seasonal, nutritionally balanced foods in their original form—as nature intended. And as wild food forager Sunny Savage in her popular TedX Talk urges – consuming just one wild plant a day can go a long way in improving our health.
2) Part of New Localized Food Systems
“Foraging skills, coupled with access to land- local parks, community gardens, back yards or vast wilderness- equals food sovereignty.” Dina Falconi Foraging and Feasting.
And yes, there is more than enough to go around. Most “wild foods” are not rare endangered indigenous species, but rather invasive plants(i.e. dandelions, plantain, garlic mustard, hawthorn berries, blackberries) that were introduced here by the early settlers as food. But today the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to eliminate (often with herbicides) these nutrient-rich foods from our lawns, gardens, parks and green spaces. Of course, wild foods will never feed populations en masse, but they have been historically used—and can be again—as a vital food supplement to enrich all of our diets.
Wild foods grow everywhere in our urban and suburban neighborhoods yet they remain a mostly untapped resource. Scottish forager Mark Williams calls these plants “superabundant”. Meaning, “if everybody within walking distance gathered enough for their personal consumption each year, under 1% of a species would actually be harvested.” Add to this bounty, the fruit produced by tree’s on city streets and boulevards, and feral fruit trees in parks, especially those that were once farmland like the fields surrounding Beaver Lake Park.
Cities like Los Angeles and Seattle are currently considering ways in which ways to allow food harvesting on public land. Some Seattle parks not only tolerate foraging, they actually teach foraging classes. In California, The Berkley Food Institute has launched Forage Berkley which maps the availability of wild and feral edible plants in urban neighborhoods and provides community education – and they confirm that “there are mountains of wild edible plants in urban food deserts in the Bay Area.”
These initiatives are part of a shift in cities which are preparing for climate changes and rising fuel prices, leading many local food security activists to look to foraging to increase the resilience of their food supply
3) Bring Us Into Harmony with Nature
As foragers, our relationship within nature- our complete interdependence- becomes crystal clear…With this comes the rewarding responsibility of caretaking the land and the plants that feed us.”Dina Falconi Foraging and Feasting.
Foraging promotes community health and well-being through more than just nutrition. Countless studies show that spending time in nature reduces blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels. And as David Suzuki points out (see here) – “with more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.”
Foraging means learning to harvest what nature gives us in time, it teaches us to observe the cycles of the seasons, the changing foliage, the flora and fauna. We begin to gain a deeper ecological understanding of our local environment – and we believe this motivates us to become better stewards of nature – especially the nature that lies just outside our front door.
And as Melissa Poe, an environmental anthropologist states “the more people understand about how the ecosystems work, the more respectful they will be of our parks.” Poe’s research demonstrates that educated foragers help protect urban land, they “enjoy greater connection with their local environment, and as a part of the gathering process, share and maintain significant local environmental knowledge.”
This element (the connections between nature and people) is among the most deeply significant motivations for people to engage in the practice of foraging…It’s an intimate connection. You can go out and you can appreciate [urban nature] and say “oh, my isn’t it pretty,” but when you interact on this level, when it becomes part of your pantry, when it’s part of what you eat, now you have a relationship. You’re not an outsider observer. It’s not this ‘other’ thing. It’s part of you and you are part of it.” (Seattle Forager)
That is why Gather is launching The Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative because it paves a path towards a future, as Poe suggests, “in which foragers assert their rights to the natural resources that support their wild food and health practices”. We believe foraging supports a sustainable connection between people, land and food that nourishes us and brings us into “right relationship” with nature. We envision a future in which wild plants are valued as an important community resource in localized food systems.
Gather is launching The Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative because we believe foraging supports a sustainable connection between people, land and food that nourishes us and brings us into right relationship with nature. We envision a future in which wild plants are valued as an important community resource in localized food systems. We teach Victoria residents not only to safely identify the many nourishing foods that grow in their neighbourhoods, city streets and backyards, but how to sustainably harvest, cook, prepare, preserve—and eat them as well. Reviving health-promoting wild food culinary traditions (as well as creating delicious new ones!) Gather explores the local terroir, season by season.
Gather wants to bring wild food education to each neighborhood in the Greater Victoria area. So please join us! If you are interested in participating in the EWCFI please contact us and let us know. We also ask that you consider emailing a link of this post to City Councillors before March 31st, urging the City support to the Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative (firstname.lastname@example.org.) Or email a link of this post to Ben Isitt email@example.com and Jeremy Loveday firstname.lastname@example.org directly. Thank-you!