Foraging – can food just grow?: Kevin Feinstein at TEDxConstitutionDrive

Foraging – can food just grow?: Kevin Feinstein at TEDxConstitutionDrive


Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Well, hi. Thanks for coming today. My name is Kevin Feinstein,
and today’s talk is about foraging. Before we get into the details of that, I’d like to just take some time
to share with you my story of how I got into this in the first place. So … It was the late 90s,
and I just graduated from college, and I was thirsty for knowledge. The internet was new, and I was following
the rabbit hole of research to find out more about the world. What I found was very disturbing. What I found was
we were destroying the planet by the way we were growing our food. And I also was disturbed to find out
that I knew nothing about food – where it came from – and nobody around me
seemed to know anything about it either. So I set out on a journey,
that I’m still on, to find out all I could about food,
where it comes from, and how to create a sustainable
food system for our planet. So, one of those facts
that I learned in my research was that it takes
up to 10 calories of fossil fuel to make 1 calorie of food. And also all of these toxic chemicals and labor and input and energy
and time and all these things, when in water, went into growing
even the most basic of food. This didn’t seem right to me –
it seemed like it was backwards. Because we need energy from the food
in the first place to do all these things. I was driving in the South,
where I’m originally from, southern United States, and I was contemplating these things, and I made a discovery. And that discovery
is that food just grows. I was – I know the picture
is pretty small here – but I was looking on the side of the road, seeing all the lush plants in the South, and the weeds on the side
of the roads and meadows and forest, and I said, “Hey,
those plants are growing, and they don’t need all these inputs and
toxic chemicals and everything to grow.” So, I got an edible wild plant guide because I knew that some
of those plants had to be edible. In some ways, my journey began right then. But at the exact same time, I got into something
called “permaculture.” And permaculture, if you don’t know it, is a design philosophy that mimics natural ecosystems
to provide the needs for humans. So it regenerates the environment at the same time it’s providing
food and materials and things for us, and it supports itself,
just like a natural ecosystem will. One of the aspects of permaculture
that I really was drawn to was called a “food forest,” which is depicted here – this is one that I designed in Lafayette. A food forest is like it sounds: it’s you design, basically,
a forest that eventually supports itself with all the elements
of a natural ecosystem, but it’s meant to provide food for people. So I was, you know,
very excited about all of this – this is the solution
to all our problems, right here. So I wanted to go out
and put in food forests for people and put in gardens for people. And I did, to some degree. And what I found
was that the clients that I had, they would spend lots
of time and money and energy to set up the gardens
and plant the trees and all this, but when it came time to harvest,
they just let all the food go to waste. So I was like, “This is kind of like
wasting my time growing rotten veggies, so to speak.” So I started focusing on
the harvesting end of the whole equation, which ultimately became foraging. So you could say that I got into foraging
because of all the rotten veggies. So, this harvesting end of the equation sort of became foraging from gardens
and permaculture systems and what not. At the same time, I was very much a naturaIist,
and hiker, camper, and everytime I went out
on my wilderness excursions, I noticed there was food
growing everywhere. Remember I had
my edible plant guide with me, so I was eating a lot of these foods too. It’s like “There’s all this out here, so we need to eat all the food
that’s out there first, before we start, you know,
trying to grow more. But this also brings us to, I think,
the more common definition of foraging, which is gathering food from the wild. And I teach wild food walks, and I give, you know, foraging tours, regularly for the last,
you know, gosh, eight years. And I think that’s what
most people think foraging is. So, we’re going to look at some images now
and talk a little bit about that – I think it’s the more
sexy aspect of this equation that’s more and more popular these days. So, this is miner’s lettuce. You may have eaten it before. It’s a very delicious wild green
that grows here in California. These are acorns from
an acorn-processing workshop that I gave a few years ago. These are hackberries –
wild hackberries – from the eastern U.S. This is me climbing up this huge hill
to pick wild yarrow for beer brewing. Picking wild huckleberries in the forest. Getting lost in the dense wilderness,
looking for rare, edible mushrooms that only grow in the wilderness – such as the matsutake – taking it home and making matsu tacos. Beach foraging for nettles
and other greens and herbs. Wild hazelnuts – it’s so dark that the camera didn’t focus,
because the forest was so dense. And this is yellow-foot chanterelles
next to a wood rat’s nest. Wild persimmons in the East Coast that I had to go through a field of ticks,
chiggers, and poison ivy to get to. And this is here in California
in the springtime – a whole field of
edible greens and flowers. Most everything you see there
is actually edible. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Think we should be realistic. Foraging as such –
gathering food from the wild – cannot feed 7 billion people. At best, it can feed
10 to 100 million people. And overharvesting and improper foraging
can be very ecologically devastating; there’s no question about that. So, overfishing the world’s oceans
is a huge concern for global ecosystems. You know, someone armed
with a little bit of knowledge can go in and do a lot of damage really fast – picking the wrong thing
and not being aware of the life cycle of the plants and things
that they’re foraging. So, another poignant example
is this creature, which is no longer with us. This is the passenger pigeon,
which is now extinct. Many say it was made extinct
by over-foraging because it was a delicious bird
and it was regularly eaten. Other people say that it was
because of habitat destruction – is why the passenger pigeon
ultimately went extinct. I would say that felling
of the old-growth forest and that habitat destruction is a form of over-foraging
and improper foraging. So, there’s no question that I could give
a whole talk on the dangers of this, and how we don’t need
increasing numbers of people going into the few
wilderness areas we have left and, you know, decimating those places. But there’s a whole other end
of the equation I do want to talk about, which is something
I call “regenerative foraging.” Regenerative foraging is as it sounds, which is a foraging practice that actually regenerate
the plants you’re foraging for and increasing biodiversity
in the greater ecosystem. This was practiced by native peoples
all over the world for thousands of years. There’s just countless examples of this, but I’m going to give you
one really simple example based on a California wildflower. This is the Brodiaea;
it’s a native California wildflower. It produces a corm about this big,
or bulb, that’s edible, and for many native peoples,
it was a staple of their diet, like potatoes are for some tribes. And the act of harvesting it – they used a digging stick. So they’d dig into the ground
and loosen the soil, and then they’d pull out the corm
and put it in their baskets. And then the little cormlets would break off and fall
into that loosely dug soil, and then it would help the populations
of the plant spread and grow. So the act of cultivation and
the act of foraging were one and the same. So, if you look at this picture here – it was taken just a few years ago
in the Bay area, in an open space. And you count, I don’t know, one, two, three, four, maybe eight, nine
little Brodiaea clusters sticking up there amongst all the nonnative grasses. Well 300 years ago,
this was likely all Brodiaea because it was foraged for thousands
of years to get the populations up. So nowadays, it’s somewhat
of a rare wildflower; it’s no longer a viable food source because it hasn’t been foraged
in the way that it had been before. Another example of regenerative foraging is stinging nettle. This is a simple, basic example. I mean these can get really complicated,
but this one’s very simple. Stinging nettle is like basil, in the sense that if you
keep cutting it back, it will produce more food for you. You can greatly increase the amount
of food you get from one plant or a patch, and then, also, how long you can get it, so we increase the season too, and it benefits the health of the plant. There’s lots of examples
of this kind of thing, and a lot of the scientific studies
have been done on grazing animals rather than human practices, but there’s many of those too. So, switching gears just a little bit, another way that we can incorporate
foraging into a sustainable food system is the harvesting of what
are considered to be invasive weeds. Most of the plants that I forage for and I teach in my classes
and wild food walks are considered to be invasive
or noxious weeds. And thistle is a great example. This is a common thistle
that grows all over the world, and it’s considered to be a pest species
for most farmers and gardeners, but it’s actually quite edible. Here’s a huge hillside full of thistle, and this is in Walnut Creek, and I’d say that is about 80% thistle
in that picture, believe it or not, and so it’s a very,
very abundant foodsource. Overharvesting is not an issue
when it comes to this. Some people think it should be
eradicated from certain places, so forage away. Thistles are an extremely edible plant,
despite what many people believe. The only part you can’t eat
are the spikes. So what I recommend eating is – it sends up its flowering stalk
as you can see in this picture, and you take that flowering stalk, you peel it, and you’re left with
crunchy delicious vegetables. And you can cook them,
and they get quite soft. And it’s one of the best-tasting
vegetables I’ve ever had. So I highly recommend you try it. The season for it is kind-of right now,
so be on the lookout for them. Another part of the thistle plant
that I highly recommend eating is the sprout. So this is the newly growing
thistle plant from the seed. The first two leaves are called
“cotyledons,” or germ leaves. They have no spikes,
and they’re succulent and delicious, and the leaf in the middle looks
like a thistle leaf because it’s spiky, but it’s actually not sharp,
so you can eat the whole thing. But it’s a great identification marker –
that true leaf out of the middle – and it’s one of the best
microgreens I’ve ever had. I suspect you’ll start finding them
at farmers markets pretty soon. Another way in which we can incorporate
foraging into a sustainable food system is the growing of weeds, so to speak. Many wild plants and weeds
want to grow naturally. They don’t require lots of input and labor and, you know, fossil fuels
or fertilizers or anything – they just grow. Dandelion, for instance – it’s far more nutritious
than many of its domesticated relatives. And most wild foods are. So they’re easy to grow,
and they’re more nutritious. And in this situation here:
this is a balcony in Oakland that’s north-facing and under an awning –
so it’s a small space – way too small and shady
to grow a conventional garden; instead, I chose to grow some wild plants, stinging nettle and chickweed, and I got a tremendous amount of food
in this very small, shady area. And beyond that, stinging nettle is one of the most
nutritious plants ever studied by science, and, you know, I just grew
tons and tons of it there. It’s a great way to sustainably grow
nutrition and food, even in areas where you
can’t grow a lot of other things. Another example is this plant. It’s called Aronia. It’s a wild plant to the Eastern U.S.,
and can be grown in much of the world. It’s the highest antioxidant content
of any berry in the world. And it grows like the Dickens,
as you would say. It just produces
copious amounts of berries, even on a small plant like this. It’s very, very drought-tolerant; cold-tolerant; it’s a really tough and resilient plant. And you eat that nutrition,
and it makes you resilient too – all the antioxidants. Very sustainably grown. Another way we can incorporate
foraging into a sustainable food system is foraging for the unused fruit
in the urban wild. There’s food growing all around us. Here in the South Bay,
there’s citrus, like, everywhere that’s being completely unused. Here’s some cherry plums
in the streets of Oakland, and here’s more cherry plums by the ballfield
in the suburbs of Lafayette. And here’s wild elderberries growing right out of
the Iron Horse Trail in Walnut Creek. But, there’s apples and pears
and pomegranates and persimmons growing all around us, and most of that, actually,
does go completely to waste. So that’s a great place to forage. I know it’s not as sexy
as wild mushrooms in the dense forest, but it’s definitely a food source, and it’s sustainable because
it’s being wasted for the most part. This is very near downtown Walnut Creek, and this is a trail. And on this side,
it’s full of all sorts of edibles, including salsify, or “salsifie,” which is the plant you see featured there. And on the back, over here,
is where, unfortunately, they doused the whole area
with herbicides and killed everything. So it just kind of shows you
the juxtaposition of what typical landscaping
thinks is a good idea and what a forager thinks is a good idea. Because this is all food,
pretty much, right here. I mean, it’s like an acre –
along that strip, at least – of just pure food. So, just a transition here to close. The foraging movement
has grown by leaps and bounds over the last five years –
I’ve witnessed it first hand. So there’s more
and more foragers out there trying to do this and getting into it. The biggest problem we have
is access to places to forage. Parks and public spaces, for the most part,
it’s completely forbidden. So it’s either done illegally
or on private land which is also hard to come by, places to do that. So I suggest creating a permit system
similar to a hunting/fishing license. I think that would alleviate
a lot of the tension around this subject. But beyond that, I want to suggest
something a bit more bold, which is the creation of foraging parks. So a foraging park
would be like a normal park, but it would be a place where wild plants,
planted or allowed to grow, that you can choose the species you want,
or you can just let the species develop. And people are allowed to come in,
deliberately to forage. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is people that want to connect
to nature and the natural world, I don’t think there’s a better way
to do it than eating wild plants and connecting in that kind of way – foraging. So, that may sound like a fairy tale, but Seattle is working on this right now. They’re developing a 17-acre food forest, very near town, where people can go in and eat
the edible foods and fruits and things, and gather them. So, it’s my contention, after years
and years of research on this subject and devoting my life to it, that if we’re going to have
a sustainable food system of the future, it’s going to look a lot more
like foraging than it is farming. Thank you. (Applause)

13 Replies to “Foraging – can food just grow?: Kevin Feinstein at TEDxConstitutionDrive

  1. Good stuff. We can feed more people with foraging IF we plant more food giving TREES. Most wild greens are good but provide almost no calories. Roots, tubers, nuts, wild rice, and fruit are the most calorie dense.

  2. "the rare and elusive matsutake that only grows in the wilderness." Not quite. Those pine mushrooms grow in my front yard.

  3. Thistle is one if not the best plants for restoration and maintenance of the liver. Many countries governments endorse it's use as well as other wild plants. Purslane which grows almost everywhere in open fields to sidewalk cracks , has more Omega 3 than any other know plant . Tons of plants are growing wild and free to keep us healthy. Our medical system however knows it is not profitable to keep the nation healthy so advise taking pills instead. Something wrong it seems with that picture don't you think ??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *