This week we’re keeping it light and breezy, with something rewarding, COVID-friendly, and delicious: foraging.
Even in the heart of Toronto, there is food all around us, and gathering up some of that food is a family-friendly activity that has lots of environmental upsides. Now, no one’s going to go truly paleo and live off squirrels, roots, and berries, but right now we’re entering a season of real abundance, when you can add a little something to your meal that avoids a lot of pitfalls we’ve discussed before (each item on the list links to old newsletters, if you missed some key issues). Foraged foods are
All climate wins! Plus all this bounty is free, nutritious, and allows you to spend time in nature, which is good for both body and brain. After you’ve had your eyes opened to all the edibles around you, you start seeing them everywhere, and the world becomes just a little more interesting (and delicious).
In the last week or so, I’ve picked serviceberries, mulberries (look for the telltale stained-purple sidewalk), raspberries, and linden flowers. You can also find wild strawberries and cherries. The garden also offers a bunch of edible weeds — right now it’s purslane, lamb’s quarters, stinging nettle, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Of course a reliable field guide is essential so you don’t accidentally poison yourself, but all the plants I’ve mentioned are pretty easy to ID. Search by region and season to find edibles in your area, and don’t eat anything unless you’re 100% sure.
Some general guidelines for ethical foraging:
Don’t take anything from private property without permission. (But getting permission could be as easy as slipping a note in someone’s mailbox.)
Don’t take more than you need. If foraging mania swept the nation, we might have a tragedy of the commons, and ramps might go the way of the passenger pigeon, but as it is, you’re probably fine taking just the food you can use. (Remember, we’re trying to avoid food waste.) Forager Liz Knight says, “If you turn around and can see that you’ve been there, you’ve taken too much.”
Have a plan for what you’ll use, whether it’s drying herbs for tea, freezing berries, making jams, or eating fresh.
Don’t go tramping off trail in protected areas or forage there — those are recovering ecosystems.
If there’s only one plant, leave it be.
Join a picking party
There are wonderful organizations across Canada, from Victoria to Halifax, that make it their mission to rescue fruit before it’s rotting on the ground. These programs pair property owners and gleaning enthusiasts, and small teams will harvest the fruit, often sharing some with a community agency. I’ve picked with Toronto’s Not Far from the Tree (NFFTT) for many years now, and have loaded my two bike baskets with cherries, apples, and pears, but Toronto trees also offer grapes, peaches, apricots, plums, and more. (Organic, untended trees might give you fruit that’s not supermarket-perfect, but it’s still very usable. I’ve made a lot of applesauce and fruit butters.) Since NFFTT was formed in 2008, they’ve harvested 187,218 pounds of fruit, with 62,406 pounds donated to nonprofit partner agencies. I love picking for the fruit, of course, but also enjoy the chance to have interesting conversations, get rural in the city, and explore other people’s yards. You can still register to be a picker, or if you have a tree, to have it picked. And if urban fruit intrigues you, may I recommend reading Helena Moncrieff’s warm, delicious book The Fruitful City, which explores what city bounty can teach us about our history, our communities, and each other. (I’m proud to have edited it.)
Plan for future foraging
Though this won’t help you this year, there’s still time to invest in future fruit. And right now a lot of garden centres are clearing out this stock — you could get an apple tree or a blueberry bush at a bargain. Before you buy, just make sure the tree or bush is right for your conditions and check if it needs another plant (or variety) for cross-pollination.
Edible plants and fruits are all around us, even in big cities; investigate what’s in season and try to find something new to try.
Check to see if your city has a local gleaning group, or if you have a fruit tree, consider signing it up for the program.
It’s not too late to plant a fruit tree or bush, and they’ll likely even be on sale.
Wins of the Week
“I’m in the street three times this week
New threats, new lows
If this gets us to our feet
and grows, who knows?”
— Sarah Harmer, “New Low” (This album, Are You Gone, is incredible & one of my favourite things of 2020)
Virtual high fives to this week’s great greenies!
After reading the newsy on decluttering, Emily decided to avoid Value Village and is going back to bartering and giving things away online. She also researched a place to bring her undonateable clothes for recycling!
Kerry planted a lovely fire-escape garden this year, and when she runs the water for her shower, waiting for it to get warm, she fills her watering can under the tap.
Jimmy saves all kinds of scrap metal to return, which means landfill reduction, recycling, plus cash in pocket!
Please brag at me about wins large and small. Hit reply to this email, or get in touch on the socials. I’m also grateful for your feedback on ways I can improve this missive!
May your foraging be fruitful, and may your partner not bust you carrying a telltale plastic container in the local park. (Better to make them an accomplice, anyway.)
P.S. Just after I sent last week’s newsletter on packaging, I discovered a statement by over 100 scientists, include epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, and doctors, that declares reusables safe to use in pandemics if basic hygiene is followed (for the containers and yourself). My local co-op has gone back to accepting reusables; maybe check with your favourite café or grocer to see if they’re open to getting trash reduction back on track.