Urban Foraging?


Lot selected for “cleaning and greening” as part of the Philadelphia LandCare Program.

Urban foraging? Something isn’t right about this…

Foraging The Weeds For Wild, Healthy Greens, NPR, April 2011

Most of the commenters said what I would have. In a nutshell, pollution. I worked in the city of Philadelphia for years. I wouldn’t eat the things growing among the cracks and buildings. Even garden soil is polluted, as this commenter attests to:

“I recently had the soil in our NW backyard tested and it came up with 535 ppm of lead (anything over 500 is considered unsafe for growing vegetables, and more than 70 ppm is considered “contaminated”.) The soil testing lab that I used said that lead and arsenic are common in DC yard soil.”

There’s another issue that isn’t being discussed in this urban foraging movement: trespassing. Land in the city is owned. Foraging involves trespassing and essentially stealing. How do you know that the owner or renter doesn’t use the lot to forage? (And you just got away with their choice greens.) Isn’t encouraging growth to prevent erosion? Doesn’t grow plants to attract birds and bees? Doesn’t intend to plow the plants into the soil to add nutrients for a garden? Just likes the untrampled, undisturbed view? It doesn’t matter, it’s theirs to do with what they will. Nowhere in this article does it advise seeking permission from the land’s owner.  Or offering to pay for the privilege of removing plants.  The concept of “free” here seems wrapped up in a sense of entitlement. That such a distinguished news source such as NPR promotes this is disturbing.

Speaking of stealing, here’s another article about an urban forager, except this person sells the greens he picks for “free” to high-end restaurants and supports himself with that income. And pays no taxes on that income? He hides when and where he forages. Why does he keep it a secret? Why doesn’t he grow these greens on his own property? Our taxes pay for the roads he drives his car on, for so many things. If he doesn’t want to pay taxes, will he be forfeiting Medicare and Social Security when he gets older?

I love the idea of eating unusual plants. But maybe a better use of our efforts would be to clean up vacant lots instead of pillaging them. Let’s give instead of taking.

Julianne Mesaric, writing for Sustainable Food Trust, says:

Charles C. Branas is an epidemiologist and director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Health Lab. He has been researching gun violence in both urban and rural areas for over two decades. One of his early studies showed that vacant properties were strongly connected with violent crimes, including those committed with guns, perhaps more than any other neighbourhood indicator. A subsequent study by Branas and other scientists published in the American Journal of Epidemiology went on to show that after vacant lots are greened, there is a significant reduction in violent crime: gun crime decreased by 7 to 8 percent around lots that were greened. The study also reported reductions in vandalism, criminal mischief and stress.

The lot in the photo above was transformed into the lot below. With more investment you could establish community gardens.


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