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Successful Scouting Missions July 17, 2014

As my interest in foraging grew, I began to explore new territory. My workplace and backyard were well known to me, but there were other locations nearby that looked equally promising. The current bushes by the river were loaded as were the juniper trees. And then, there was the canal a half-mile from my home where every season, the cattails grew tall and thick.

It was this canal which drew my attention early this spring and, just after the snow had melted, I wandered down for a scouting mission. This would be a precursor to later foraging adventures and was designed to give me the “lay of the land”. I was looking for several things as I walked (and advise that you do as well, if foraging is in your future):

1. Was the soil near the bank secure? As the season pressed on, the canal would fill with water and I wanted to be certain that I knew the best way to and from the cattails without risking getting soaked or, worse yet, drowned.

2. Were there obstacles in the path that might be hidden once the brush had grown up? Among these were blocks of crumbled cement, bent rebar, collapsed barbed wire, and a proliferation of ground squirrel holes.

3. Were there any particular dangers posed by the wildlife? There weren’t any tracks to indicate that larger wildlife took an interest in the area (though I knew this might change as the year wore on). There were ducks, ground squirrels, and a feral cat living in a hold across the ditch, but the area seemed reasonably free of anything territorial enough or large enough to take me on. (Though I made a note to avoid both the squirrels and the cat during future ventures.)

4. Were there any human dangers? With gangs on the rise in my local area, I admit that I was also on the lookout for tags indicating that some unscrupulous characters had claimed the area for their own. I also kept an eye open for less hazardous signs of human activity including “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” indicators.

5. Were there any chemical threats? There was one final issue of importance and this one couldn’t be settled in the course of a single mission: was anyone spraying the foraging area for weeds or insects? The very presence of the cattails seemed to indicate that at minimum, no herbicides targeting monocots were being applied, but this didn’t mean that the area and the food grown in it was entirely safe. I’d have to keep my eyes open throughout the season to ensure that the health of my foraging area did not become a threat to the health of my family.

The scouting mission complete, I was ready to move on with my plan. There would be cattail on the menu this summer… though I felt it wise not to mention its addition to my family until after they’d partaken of the meal.


Eat This: An Introduction to Foraging July 10, 2014

My introduction to foraging was an accident. The fruiting plants in the nursery were producing, but the customers weren’t there to purchase them. As I gazed at the bright red berries, I couldn’t avoid the sense that letting them stay there to rot was a shame. So I plucked them and popped them into my mouth.

The same was true for the little pear tree planted in the windbreak. Hidden between overgrown spruce trees, potted plants and a field of tall grass, it was hardly noticeable. The pears were not large, but the tiny tree was laden with them and I decided to take a chance. What I discovered was a delight which, for weeks to come, would form a key part of my lunch.
And that was when everything changed. As I sat there eating my free fruit, I began to wonder what other overlooked food might be available in the local area… and whether I could find enough to provide an entire meal. Might foraging be a way to bring down a grocery bill while retaining the nutritional value necessary for survival. It seemed likely. After all, people around the world have been “gathering” their food for millennia. And if they could do it, so could I.

This, of course, merited a trip to the local book store where I picked up a copy of “Edible Wild Plants” by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. The volume was a treasure trove of information about over 200 North American plants. It included information about how best to prepare and serve each along with warnings about varieties which had been known to cause allergic reactions and even which plants might be confused with poisonous cousins.
Over the next few weeks, I discovered rose hips, sumac berries, wild currents, and the fruit of the hawthorn tree. I shared these delights willingly with my coworkers who quickly came to anticipate my sudden appearance from behind a hedge or inside a grove with fruit in hand and a command to “eat this”. (It is a tribute to my trustworthiness that nearly every one of my coworkers complied with my orders and, in turn, discovered a variety of pleasant alternatives to grocery store fare.)

I confess that I wasn’t bold enough to try everything that was in season. Dandelion is, after all, a weed (though it wasn’t for many centuries) and cattails are… well, fuzzy. Still, it was enough to be going forward on and it wasn’t long before I was providing quite a few snacks and an occasional meal consisting solely of foraged foods. This, however, would not be enough to satisfy my curiosity and my odd interest in a lost art. It was time to expand my horizons. (To be continued…)


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