Forage (v): To search for food and supplies… I like to forage. A large portion of my food, and most of the stuff in my medicine cabinet, comes from the woods, fields, and wetlands around my home. When I tell people this the most common response is shock, followed by concern for my finances. People worry that I’m too broke to buy food and often ask if I need money. Society has conditioned us to think that food should come from the grocery store, so many people can’t imagine why a person would willingly wander around in the woods looking for food. To help people understand, I have come up with my Top 10 Reasons to Forage:
- Nutrient Dense
Foraged foods are, in general, healthier for us and for the environment. They are always local, so they don’t require fossil fuels for transport. Which means they have a lower carbon footprint than foods from the grocery store. And they don’t need to be picked before they are ripe- before they reach maximum nutrition- to ensure that they will hold up until they get to us. They also don’t require chemical preservatives or ripening agents because local foods are always fresh. And fresh foods are healthier for us. Just a day or two after harvest, foods are already loosing nutritional value. Most produce in the grocery store takes a couple of days, or longer, to get from the farm to the store shelf. Even accounting for the differences in transport time, foraged foods are typically nutrient dense in comparison to what we can find in the store. Several wild greens have more nutritional value than kale or spinach, wild rice is far more nutritious than white or brown rice, and a tiny wild strawberry has more vitamins than a gigantic one from the store. This is because wild foods aren’t getting any assistance to germinate and grow. So they can only survive in the conditions that provide them with all of the nutrition they need to be strong and hearty. Which means, of course, that wild foods are organic. There is certainly no one running around in the woods spraying herbicides or pesticides on wild plants, and the only fertilizer they get comes from naturally composting leaves and grasses. Foraging is also good exercise. Walking, bending, digging, reaching, carrying- this workout will never be boring. And being outside, with the sun and the birds and the fresh air, is simultaneously very relaxing. A walk in the woods easily rivals yoga, tai chi, or pilates when it comes to feeling grounded and experiencing a flow state.
Personally, some of my most important reasons for foraging include taste and variety. Even if you shop at farmer’s markets and ethnic grocers, the variety of foods is fairly limited. There are literally 100s of wild edibles in Michigan, and most of them have unique (and delicious) tastes that can’t be compared to commercially available foods. And once you become good at foraging, you can collect quite a bit of food. There is quite a bit of security in knowing that you can survive for a time if, for whatever reason, the grid goes down. It can also be empowering to know that you can quit your job or get laid off and you won’t starve before you find something else. Because foraged food is free. So, no, I don’t need money, thank you. In fact, I saved enough on my grocery bill last year to buy a new living room set… from a local guy who made it from foraged wood, of course.