Post 6: On Foraging and Conservation

A Forager [copied from]

A digest of a talk posted on YouTube

Here we explore a short TEDx talk on the role of foraging, given in December 2018 by Maine foraging teacher Arthur Haines. The talk is titled “What’s wrong with our conservation paradigm [model]?

Haines starts:  “we spend most of our time indoors, and have lost meaningful contact with nature.” He cites a study that found respondents answered “yes” to the question of whether they consider themselves part of nature; when asked to describe a natural place, it was one devoid of human presence.

“Our views on conservation are not driven from a place of direct experience.  We no longer have direct experience informing us how to interact.”  “We put a glass dome over nature while industrialization destroys the rest of it. When we lose contact with green space, we become apathetic, because we are being alienated.”

Haines wants us to more deeply experience nature, and to improve our physical health, by foraging for wild foods. 

“Wild foods not only have superior nutrition (the woolly violet’s early spring leaves have 60 times pro-Vitamin A of the supermarket iceberg lettuce), but harvesting them connects us deeply with our land. 

He describes how the cultivation of a wild plant can help, not hinder its propagation; how this requires our care and study – learning to gather at the right time, and in the right quantities; and how this care and study rewards us with a deeper connection with land, and “nourishes us far better than walking down the aisle of a supermarket,” the ending sentence of his talk.

Reciprocal conservation” is his term for foraging for its role in conservation.  A

I remembered a local voice, the late Virginia researcher and writer Grace Firth, and went to my collection of her books to find this bit of wisdom (from “Living the Natural Life,” 1974):

“An identifiable future is one of the gifts of living the natural life.  Without faith in the future there is a tendency to live in the present, and often an ill-defined self evolves.  Collecting and brewing natural tea combats rootlessness.  Linden, Labrador, blossom, Blue Mountain or persimmons, all greet the senses with aromatic odors and clean flavors.  Mints provoke pleasure in tall drinks.  Tea is more than a tiny bag of brown crumbles.  Native tea belongs to the earth, and preserving foraged tea preserves the underlying order of life.”

What about parks?

I believe we can affirm that our need to re-learn how wholly we depend on nature for our life and vitality is urgent. Thus, we should do everything we can to encourage the kind of direct experience that Haines says we are missing. Our parks and public lands should provide foraging capacity.

Foraging can be permitted through guided foraging tours, as in New York’s Central Park with guide Steve Brill,, or by making foraging locations and rules friendly, as this Wisconsin park does:

We can go beyond what already resides on the land, and plant “food forests” of edibles that will thrive with little or no care. Plots of native hazelnuts, paw paws, as well as fruit trees that are tough enough to produce fruit in a half-wild state, could be started and set aside for public cultivation.

Let’s put a bit of the real paleo diet within everyone’s reach, and explore “reciprocal conservation.”