My First Forage
Hey everyone! My name is Chris and I am one of the Urban Agriculture Directors for F.H. King. One of my new hobbies is foraging for wild vegetables, fungi and things of that nature. There have been a lot of requests that we start a series regarding foraging, so I will be writing blogs about my experiences. I am really new to it, so if you follow along with the blogs we can learn together. Happy hunting!
For my first time foraging out in the "wild", I would call it a great success. Two curious friends and I ventured off the familiar path at Kletzche Park in Milwaukee, Wis. What came next was surprisingly breathtaking: “Right in front of our eyes was a brilliant scenery adorned with rolling hills, blooming flowers, robust trees, and dark, rich soil. All afternoon, we piled up pounds of greens, shoots, stalks, nuts, and berries into our waist baskets, our faces radiating with joy….” Now let’s take a look at another version of that story: “Right in front of our eyes was a desolate patch of scrub adorned with utter ‘nothingness,’ for miles to come. Dead tree branches, crumpled leaves, tiny shriveled up berries, and smelly watery mud was what we were dealing with. So there we were, three inexperienced boys dressed in t-shirts, sweatpants, and tennis shoes standing speechless, confused, and noticeably unprepared for what lay ahead of us. All we had to arm ourselves was a rusty hand shovel, a Sendik's bag, and Sam Thayer’s “Nature’s Garden,” wild plant book on our side.”
My first journey was less than picturesque, but that's how I wanted it. You can't start in a luscious patch of a wild grocery store; you have to start slow and learn the basics. An appreciation for the magnificent foraged goods has to start with an appreciation for the less magnificent.
So anyway, after not quite knowing what to do, we started rummaging through the leaves searching for any tubers or rhizomes matching the plant descriptions Mr. Thayer had kindly mentioned in his detailed book. We didn’t find any of those, but after some time, we found ourselves analyzing this peculiar green, “grass-looking” plant. It was indeed taller than the rest of the grass in the area so we decided to dig it up. At first glance, we wanted to say it was garlic. It looked like a miniature garlic bulb and it sure smelled like one.
My friend was eager to eat it, and frankly so was I, but common sense told us that it would probably be best if we didn’t (given we weren’t 100% sure what it was). We continued our search that afternoon, and all we found were more and more of those garlic plant things. We also found a bigger stalk, similar in appearance and smell to a chive. We happily added that to our Sendik’s bag.
There it is, my first foraging adventure: a "humble beginning” as they say! Couldn’t agree more. Our status at the beginning was no different than that of the young fisher-boy out on the dock for his first time waiting with a fishing rod in his hands, staring out onto the vast, mysterious, blue lake in front of him. No different than the teen who just earned his hunting license, but has yet to venture out into the wilderness to wait in the same position for hours or days on end, shoot his game, dissect its internal organs and preserve its meat. And surely no different than the typical armchair forager sitting in their fluffy beanbag at home daydreaming about plucking berries from trees, as if Nature was a perfect banquet requiring no thought or effort to savor its fruits. By the end, we learned that like most things, foraging requires work.
Nonetheless, I would still label my first adventure a success, solely because we showed up and discovered that this would be a long-term commitment and that this would get easier…
Until next time,