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Could Urban Foraging Actually Feed the Poor?

urbanforagingFood is growing all around us. At the edge of roads, in the cracks of sidewalks, along driveways and byways and especially in parks, edible species abound. Even dandelions, that scourge of smooth green lawns, can be eaten- the tubers as well as the leaves.

In Stuy Cove Park, we have quite a few edible plants, including mulberries, blueberries, mountain mint, rose hips and plenty more than I can name here (but we’ll try and do a special blog post about this as we get closer to spring, including tips on how to get your berries on without hurting our plants!)

In this article from Grist, a project that aims to help people in “food desert” neighborhoods- neighborhoods that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables- get more fresh food by foraging is examined to see whether this approach could actually help relieve hunger and make communities healthier. It seems like a promising idea, right?

It is, but foraging raises issues of its own, some of which will be specifically addressed in the study. First of all, are wild greens, exposed to all kinds of environmental contaminants, from air pollution to pesticides to animal waste, safe to eat? and do the people who are most in need of access to fresh food actually have the time to devote to foraging, cleaning and preparing foraged food, which may not appeal as readily to modern human taste buds as we might hope?

Since there’s already quite a bit of skepticism about whether it’s realistic to feed large numbers of people with organic food, or locally grown food, it seems unlikely that foraging will be the magic bullet for poverty, obesity and food scarcity. But it could make an interesting addition to a more sustainable food system.