Our culture is predominantly one of fear mongering - the newspapers & media are full of it, keeping many in business as we seem to thrive on the flight-fight instinct of protect & defend. Funny really, as so many of our predators are extinct, our fears could justifiably be considerably reduced.
More recently the fear of environmental destruction, of population over-crowding & food supplies running out are some of the underlying themes of the future. Now, I'm not generally one to take a negative slant on things, on the contrary, I believe in possibilities & the positive creativity of human kind, and yes, that naturally extends to my views of foraging.
Some year's ago I did a talk & slideshow on Foraging & Sustainability for Transition Truro. My angle was to look at foraging in a broader context & to address some of the fears that I was hearing from participants, namely the Fear of Not Enough. This fear came in many guises; people wanting to protect 'their patch' of favourite foraging spots, of beautiful Cornwall & concluding that this meant that foraging should not be encouraged, and kept to a responsible few. These fears crossed over into fear of others (those who could, would or do trash the landscape), of blaming & separation from others.
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture's version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we've been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we're angry and scared and at each other's throats.” Brene Brown
Although I understand these fears (really, I'm personally very familiar with fear & its impact), I choose to put my attention elsewhere. I too care deeply about the natural world, though I also believe in awareness & education as tools to help people build on & alter their interactions with the environment. This, of course can be a vulnerable place, a place of exploring, trusting & stepping into the unknown. Getting outside is good for you, me & us & foraging is a great way to engage with & learn about the environment. Denying people this activity is not, in my view a constructive answer, denying some though not others this privilege would only create more separation & potential conflict. Don't we already have enough of these problems?
Despite the increase in the popularity of foraging, foraging remains a small impact activity in terms of environmental degradation, plants are still thriving, many benefiting from regular 'pruning' from foraging, while other invasive plants would be hard to eradicate.
I find myself reassured by other fellow foragers & conservationists that share my views. I was forwarded a great article recently which sums up a lot of my own sentiments. Conservation and Wild Food Foraging, is in my view a balanced article tackling this sensitive and sometimes misunderstood topic. Written by Justin Whitehouse, the Lead Ranger of the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall- thank you Justin.
To counter this culture of fear, I believe we need to start trusting each other & working together to find solutions, furthermore, to quote Brene Brown again, the opposite of not enough isn't abundance, it is simple 'enough'. We have enough, if we use our resources widely there is enough. In terms of foraging these can mean;
- Forage only what you can use, leave the rest (think tasters rather than harvesting)
- Only pick where there is an abundance & never more than one third
- Consider offering to 'weed' for food areas such as parks or neighbour's gardens
- Cultivate wild areas - leaving edible weeds to grow in your own garden or public areas
There is enough; nettles, brambles, wild garlic, japanese knotweed all flourish in the UK, are all edible & are easily identifiable. There could also be more, if we made some changes to how our land (anything from our own back yards to waste land & cultivated fields) is managed.
Just imagine... if everybody foraged how these benefits could increase, really there is no limit to what could be imagined;
- Communal expeditions to pick together
- Action to cultivate more wild areas
- Understanding & reducing pesticides to help cultivate more wilds
- Reducing weeds & invasives in certain areas
- More wildlife friendly gardens & areas, not just for food, but for birds, bees, etc
The future is ours to create & I hope that together, through sharing, learning & at times getting it wrong, as well as right, we can create an environment where people as well as other wildlife can reap the simple & natural rewards of foraging.