Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sharing, Teaching, and Tagging Along

We get asked very often by new foraging enthusiasts and beginners if we give classes or can let someone tag along with us while we are out foraging. We don't offer formal classes for money like many other foragers, or private lessons about foraging for a few reasons I would like to explain. 

Gillian eating wild carrots, NOT FOR BEGINNERS!
1. Liability. This is a big one for us, as we are not willing to be sued for someone's reckless behavior and bad identifications when they try foraging. Different people can have different reactions to any new foods, and we are not willing to take responsibility for this risk. Poor and hasty identifications by beginners who are very determined to eat wild foods terrify us. Liability waivers are essentially useless and offer no protection.

2. Local land use laws. In Connecticut specifically, there are statutes that do  not allow the removal of plants or natural materials from state land for any purpose, including pine cones for your kid's crafts! While we do not agree with this particular law, we cannot take people out into public lands to collect wild foods. We hike and forage on private property of friends and family in most cases, and do a bit of "roadside foraging" along lightly traveled dirt roads for berries or mushrooms.

We are also wary of sharing "our spots" with strangers. We would just hate to return to a ramps patch that has been pillaged for commercial sale, or trash strewn about in the woods left behind by someone with whom we shared some foraging fun and secrets.

3. Foraging is not a group activity. This does not apply to teaching, but to actual harvesting. If we are out forging with a few people who are just tagging along to learn and come across a beautiful maitake mushroom, how would we fairly share it? If we come across a small patch of 100 ramps with a group of 10 people, how could we possibly collect in an ethical manner? Taking 10% or less of a wild food is how we collect for ourselves, so that patch would yield 1 single ramp per person to stay sustainable. Sustainability is not of an issue when it comes to collecting invasive species, which we strongly encourage. 

4. Our foraging time is our family time. Both my husband and I work, and our daughter is in elementary school all week. When we hit the woods, we are spending quality time together as well as searching for edibles. We meander on obvious paths and take many detours to indulge our daughter's interests in rocks and to build fairy houses, and Robert spends lots of time taking photographs from many angles of several specimens. We are enjoying our day and time together, and sometimes we do go out with friends, but even then it is still our leisure time.

We are willing to work through and with groups, farmer's markets, food co-ops, educational groups,  or nature centers that share our values on education and conservation, and look forward to signing up for more public opportunities for teaching. We have in the past worked with Flanders Nature Center to give a short program on mushroom hunting for beginners, which included a slide show and a short hike. We taught some members of the COMA mushroom group about basic foraging at their annual Fungus Fair event. Our other mushroom club, CVMS, has several public events each year where we display mushrooms collected by club members and we discuss their names and edibility, including the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. At the Coventry Regional Farmer's Market, we gave a short walk around the grounds during their Fungi and Forage weekend market, discussing many edibles like grapes, nettles, and hazelnuts at the edge of the market field. Much of our experience has come through taking paid classes and walks with educators in our area of New England, like Wildman Steve Brill, Russ Cohen, Gary Lincoff, and Blanche Derby. We are happy to recommend trustworthy foraging instructors that we have walked with, and direct interested individuals to their websites.

This blog, which has always been and will always be free to anyone to read is our main sharing tool right now. We take many, many photographs of plants and fungi to make sure they are clear, and spend hours researching plants to share information on their edibility. We spend even more hours writing, testing, and photographing recipes made with wild foods. We have purchased over 70 books on wild edible plants, field guides, mushroom identification guides, and forager's stories, filling our bookshelves with information at our fingertips. We will continue to purchase books, because we are always learning and I like to have multiple sources of information, as well as to support our fellow foragers.

In spring of 2016, we will have our own book published, focusing on the safest and tastiest wild edibles a beginner or family can start their foraging adventures with. We believe foraging is a fantastic family activity, even if it is for a few berries growing along the fence in the backyard or the weeds growing between your tomato pants in the garden. We also believe in sharing the knowledge of wild foods, and will continue to use this blog and the upcoming book, along with a few sponsored public events, rather than private tours, to share our experiences and adventures.

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