Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wild Food Foraging Evolution

Wildman Steve Brill
As our level of experience with wild foods continues to evolve and grow, so do our opportunities to share. Eight years ago we were wide-eyed, overwhelmed, and exhausted, trying to take in so much information about so many plants at once. We would take tours with Wildman Steve Brill or Russ Cohen and come away with our heads filled with information, cameras filled with pictures, and a notebook filled with hasty scrawls and notes about dozens of plants. We bought books, watched videos, and read articles online about the wild plants we encountered on daily hikes through fields and forests.

Over the years, we have learned to slow down and take our time to truly become familiar with a plant or mushroom we want to consume. Blogging about our adventures helps me focus on the activity of foraging for wild foods. Developing recipes with our foraged fare gets us to focus on flavors and characteristics of an edible weed or mushroom. We still have plenty to learn, but our pace has slowed significantly now that we have a firm base of knowledge of many common edible plants and mushrooms.

Milkweed, delicious, nutritious, and FREE food
There seems to be an increasing interest in wild food foraging lately, and I am not sure of its source. Is it an increased online presence that has become easily searchable? Is it a food insecurity and poverty-driven necessity? It it a new awareness of the natural world in rejection of an increasingly mechanized society? I don't have an answer to my own questions, but I personally have been affected by the increased demand for the information. This blog has seen increased traffic with each passing month. I have been contacted on numerous occasions by news organizations for comments about wild food foraging, and even more often by individuals who want to join us while we spend our weekends foraging. I see many new blogs popping up, written by amateur foragers and wild food enthusiasts. Established foragers are writing books and touring the country in support of their publications. Fancy restaurants champion and advertise "local, wild" ingredients on their menus as a selling point. There are more people making a living, or at least some money, from foraging now than 8 years ago when we started our wild food journey.

Showing wild grapes
This past month, we have given three wild food walks for limited groups. I am still a bit terrified to speak in a public setting, preferring the shield of a computer screen between my audience and myself. At the Coventry Farmer's Market, the Connecticut Valley Mycological Society (CVMS), was invited back for the annual Forage and Fungus Fair, and we provided 2 short edible plant walks in a field while members of the mushroom club gave fungi walks in the forest for market patrons. Earlier this month, we participated in the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association's first annual Fungus Fair. Almost all of the participants on that walk were familiar faces, so I was much more comfortable and relaxed. While we are listed on Green Deane's Eat the Weeds website as instructors, we are just now taking small steps to actively teach others. We look forward to expanding our experiences, and hope to continue sharing our adventures.
Teaching staghorn sumac

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Our Joy of Foraging

Mushroom (and coconut!) hunting on vacation in Hawaii with Dr. Don Hemmes

Wildman Steve Brill,
Our evolution in foraging for wild foods is still ongoing. I am happy to state that our current joy comes from being in the fields and woods with full baskets and camera while we seek out wild favorites and discover new fungi and plants. We truly enjoy tasting new flavors and researching new-to-us plants, while honing our identification skills regarding mushrooms during the different seasons. Participating in forays with experienced mushroom hunters and skilled identifiers is something we look forward to every week during the mushroom hunting season from May until November, and we continue to read books and review photos during the cold winter months. Hiking and learning from experienced naturalists and wild food educators is still an activity we actively seek out, traveling many miles and even finding folks to learn from while we vacation in tropical areas. Learning, experiencing, and tasting the natural, wild world around us is something that we feel wonderful participating in, and we are both becoming more comfortable in our skills as we begin to share our knowledge with groups of interested people at public events.

Invasive garlic mustard
Native and abundant sassafras root
Two of our focuses are sustainable harvest of native plants and possible control of invasive species of plants through consumption. We are careful to research the wild edibles we hunt to make sure they are not endangered or threatened species, we take only small portions of a population of plants for our own use, and harvest conscientiously by using the renewable plant parts like berries, leaves, or stems. Digging of roots and therefore killing a plant is not an activity we do often, unless we have a specific need for the roots and the plant population is healthy and able to sustain itself with the loss of a few individuals. The identification and eating of invasive, non-native species of plants is a newer focus of ours. Many of our recipes use invasive plants as their main ingredient and we try to make finding, identifying, and consuming these invaders less daunting and delicious. As a small family of two adults and one child who forage only for ourselves, our personal impact on our environment is low, but we aim to share the ideas and knowledge of sustainable harvest with others that we teach. Foraging wild plants for profit is an activity that we do not advocate or support, and the commercialization of foraging has become a mild concern. Foraging for personal use is an activity we enjoy as a family, along with sharing our experiences with others.

Foray table with Connecticut Valley Mycological Society
Russ Cohen, educator
Blanche Derby, educator

We are fortunate that we have the time, income, and desire to spend on wild food foraging and education. Sharing the experiences, travels, and interactions with other educators with our daughter is another joy we experience through our foraging activities, hoping she will learn while having fun. We are also fortunate to have found so many wild food and fungi mentors, teachers, and friends. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning about wild edible plants and mushrooms from experienced teachers, face to face. While I prefer to read a book, and Robert prefers to learn by watching videos, we both benefit greatly by learning from actual people in the field. You may end up spending lots of money and time on travel to find your local educators, but it is always worth it, in my opinion. Traveling, camping, and recreating with like-minded friends makes the learning even more fun. Our silly hobby of eating weeds keeps growing into a learning and sharing based lifestyle, where we are continually immersing ourselves some of the things we like to do the most: eating wild foods, hunting mushrooms with friends, seeking out new wild flavors and adventures while traveling, and sharing our knowledge with others.

Fungi hunting with Terry, Bill, Noah, and Walt