There’s an apple tree growing in the back alley of my apartment building. It seems healthy and strong and every year the apples fall to the ground and get picked off by squirrels. Or they just rot on the dirt. It’s such a waste; I think I should go get a few and make a cobbler or something, but I hesitate wondering if they’re “good to eat.”
But not the urban foragers … if there is ever an apocalypse, these will be the people who survive. Foragers can distinguish between long abandoned food sources and things that will kill you. They know how to make dinner from weeds and even make it tasty.
Urban foraging is a growing hobby for many. While some prefer to stake their claim in abandoned lots and other stray patches of dirt to grow gardens, the urban forager trains his or her eye to what is already there. My abandoned apple tree is easy for them.
Take a look at FallingFruit.org for a map of the entire U.S. showing places where food is growing right now. Yes, there are plenty of abandoned fruit trees, but there are also other plants that you wouldn’t think to consider. Cattails? Before the tops turn brown, you can cook ’em and eat ’em like little ears of corn.
Acorns from elms? The acorn meat can be boiled several times and then ground down into a flour. Milkweed? Boil the stalk and leaves for 20 minutes and eat like asparagus.
There’s another aspect to urban foraging … the venerable dumpster. Yes the back side of restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries can provide a lot of tasty options if you’re willing to overlook the fact that it might be a little stinky or moldy or slimy.
Actually a lot of food is quite fresh when it’s thrown out, especially restaurants who didn’t sell quite as much of their daily special as they were hoping for. If you’re up for it, hit the trash receptacles right after closing and see what’s worth taking home. There is a whole movement of “Freegans” who live quite well this way.
Personally I have to say it’s not really for me … I’m happy to support the supply chain and encourage businesses to build compost piles instead. But I would like to learn more about the wild plants in my neighborhood and maybe snag some greens for my next salad. I think that would be cool and this fall I’m definitely picking some apples!
How about you? Have you ever foraged in your urban environment? Would you ever dumpster dive for supper? Let us know your thoughts.
photo credit: James aka Pylon757