Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Would You, Could You Forage for Profit?

Handful of free, organic, seasonal, and delicious huckleberries

Wild food foraging seems to be growing in popularity. Blogs are popping up all over, wild food discussion groups abound on facebook, new books on finding, identifying and cooking wild food are being published, dinners at restaurants are being promoted, and more people than ever are teaching. Money is being charged and earned, making what used to be a form of survival into a profit-earning job. Is this a good thing, or bad thing? Do we forage wild food for profit?

Japanese knotweed, violet, and dandelion jelly
Currently, we blog about wild food. I do have a few small ads on the blog, but I have yet to receive a check for any generated income. We have our own facebook page, where I can give current updates and add some fun photos, and a YouTube channel with videos we have made about wild food and featuring some wild food educators. We take tons of photos of wild foods, and are willing to share them without payment, we just ask for photo credit and a link back to the blog. We develop recipes and post them for free, hoping someone else may be inspired to taste wild foods. On one special occasion, we foraged food for a dinner at a restaurant in Providence that was hosting Hank Shaw, a wild foods author. In exchange, we enjoyed that fantastically prepared wild food meal and had a lovely evening out. We do make lots of wild fruit and berry preserves that we sell, but many of those also get gifted or swapped for other foods or services. We place an educational display about wild food at our local library in the autumn, and it is up for one month in the lobby. Although the library administrators have asked us to do a program to accompany the display, we have declined (stage fright!). We get asked all the time if we give classes, but I personally feel we are not at that level of education and experience. So, no profit for us.

Gillian holding Laetiporus
cincinnatus, dinner time!
If we are not making money foraging, why are we doing it? We started with a general interest in the plants around us when we were hiking in the woods. Wondering if they were edible comes from being able to identify and eat common berries like huckleberries and blackberries, and looking at the other plants we could not yet identify. We started buying books and looked for teachers, and we traveled to see Wildman Steve Brill, Blanche Derby, and Russ Cohen give talks and walks. Our interest was mostly for fun, but now we actually end up saving money on food costs. Making dinner with wild food can be challenging, but the benefits include a tasty and unusual meal. Robert enjoys the survival possibilities of eating wild food, along with the seasonal, organic and health aspects. Gillian, being a naturally inquisitive and curious child, truly enjoys the sweet berries, the minty wintergreen leaves, and the peppery greens. Our interests have also grown to include fungi, and we actively participate in the local mycological club. For now, we are willing to walk with friends and show them some edibles, but it is done in a fun manner, and we are not "teaching". Being outside and feeling comfortable with our surroundings is immensely satisfying, and spotting something free and edible is a bonus. We are still foraging without deadlines, schedules, and obligations, and I think I like it this way!


Anonymous said...

As with many things, interest and popularity seems to breed commercialism, often to a negative effect. While I'm sure there are many to whom this has been a way of life and, possibly, income for quite some time, others seek to jump on the band wagon and exploit the popularity to make a profit. The former I can respect; the latter, not so much. I have a great deal of respect for what you do and the informatio you share.

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

For me, it's about self suffiencient living combined with healthy foods. And like you said, it gets you outdoors.

The 3 Foragers said...

It is some of the newcomers that we worry about-mainly someone who has taken one class or read a blog or posted a picture on facebook, and now thinks of themselves as a wild food teacher and is now charging others to "learn". Wild food is beautiful, but can be dangerous, and the educators we have walked with have many decades of experience between them, many stories, anecdotes, and knowledge. We truly respect and appreciate them, and that is why we won't make a quick buck off of giving tours when there are many more people who can do it better.

wildcraft diva said...

Love this post and thanks for sharing your knowledge. Foraging is still common here, especially with the older generations, but it is not exactly "trendy" with younger people.
In the UK it's making a real comeback.
I have paid for one course here in Italy and was happy to so, plus the lunch we prepared was delicious. It was also an occasion to meet like-minded people. I'm sure if you did give walks they would be super informative and well attended.

Paul Devlin said...

Great post and great website. I would not forage for profit - but I would teach foraging. Seems like something that is meant to be an oral tradition, a treasure of the people, and not a business. I've made acorn cookies from acorns I've gathered, gotten sick on wild cherries, eaten kangaroo apples - it's so rewarding to connect with nature and it makes us better people - keep at it!

Brian said...

Nice post! I forage for a very small profit sometimes :-) I've worked in the restaurant industry for a long time and when I have excess mushrooms or whatever else, I sell them to some Chef friends, I typically go out to eat at their restaurants and pay for the plates they make with the goods I sold them, kind of funny! I think on the small scale, some sales are good and fine, it's when people are clear picking patches and doing things in an unethical where problems arise. Thanks for having such a great blog!