Why foraging is the way of the future
NADIA magazine features editor Fiona Ralph invites Nadia on a foraging expedition. After a shaky start, the pair decide gathering free food is the way of the future.
When I first heard about foraging, it sounded like fun but also a lot of work. I envisioned a full day’s excursion, an out-of-town drive, some fence and tree climbing, and the risk of being caught trespassing. Fun perhaps but a little freaky. I categorised it alongside dumpster diving and, while admiring the commitment to sourcing free food that would otherwise be wasted, was happy to leave the task to others.
Then I spoke to Christchurch baker Anna Worthington for the April/May issue of NADIA. Anna forages for fruit and flowers to use in the delicious cakes she makes for her business, Cakes by Anna. After hearing her talk of snipping lavender from the footpath, collecting rhubarb from her neighbours and ‘shopping’ for apples in the city’s uninhabited red zone, I wanted in.
But Auckland, where I’m based, doesn’t have access to anything like the red zone, which is full of abandoned fruit and nut trees which have been catalogued by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority for ease of foraging. Luckily, a quick Google showed me that there are foraging maps available for most of the country and you can even download them to your phone via the Google Maps app. In fact, I did this accidentally and now don’t know how to remove it.
But, magically, I can now see what fruit trees are in the vicinity wherever I go. It’s perfect for an inner-city forager who might just keep secateurs, a basket and watering can in her car for such a purpose. Seeing fruit trees pop up each time I search for an address makes foraging more accessible – something I can do while out and about. It’s a bit hard to properly see my route with all the pins representing fruit trees in the way, but the minor inconvenience is worth it.
The New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map is user-populated, so people can add trees that are on public land as well as those on their property that they are happy for foragers to take fruit from. Nut trees, herbs, shellfish and some vegetables are also included, as are community gardens. Fungi are listed, too, but I’m steering clear of this category since I don’t have the expertise to ensure safe consumption.
On my first foraging mission in the suburbs of West Auckland, almost half the trees I try to track down either aren’t where the map says they are (or am I just terrible at reading maps and identifying trees?) or the fruit isn’t yet ripe. Apparently, it’s worth looking into the seasonality of produce before hunting down fruit. But this isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon – wandering through parks and down undiscovered pathways. And it’s all worth it when I traipse across Tawa Esplanade to find a swathe of blackberries and a ripe-for-the-picking apple tree positioned exactly as marked on the map.
Armed with more knowledge, I invite Nadia out for a foraging expedition later in the week. She puts me to shame with her knowledge of wild herbs and seasonal produce, and her willingness to sample all the food we discover.
We start our day at the amazing Glen Eden Community Garden, which is on its way to becoming a perennial food forest. Food forests seem to be the way of the future for foragers, community gardeners and the food chain in general. They are developed using permaculture principles of working with, rather than against, nature by encouraging wild flowers and so-called weeds to grow, letting the birds and bees do their job, and generally allowing nature to do much of the work for you.
Helen Bakker, manager of the garden, shows us around the impressive site, which was established after two houses were demolished, leaving a number of fruit trees on a reserve which backs onto a stream. There are orange and fig trees, pineapple plants and grapevines, rows of vegetables and herbs, nut trees and more.
We find out that many of the ‘weeds’ and wild flowers in the garden are actually therapeutic herbs such as anise hyssop, which is just begging to be infused into a tea. Volunteers are welcome and, for your hard work, you will be rewarded with fresh produce – surely a cheaper and more enjoyable way of stocking the fridge than braving the supermarket. We fill our baskets with cucumbers, macadamias, sorrel, rhubarb, rosemary and more.
Next we head to a property where the owners have listed feijoa and persimmon trees on the foraging map. We find more than anyone could eat and fill our baskets. It’s a little odd helping ourselves from a stranger’s yard, but detailed notes state we are welcome to take what we need.
In the afternoon we scramble over a few fences and gorge ourselves on blackberries and apples from Tawa Esplanade, and Nadia is inspired to make a fruit crumble from our day’s pickings. Not only do we enjoy the satisfaction of cooking with free feijoas, rhubarb, apples, blackberries, rosemary and macadamias, it tastes even better after a hard day’s foraging.
- Research produce that is in season before you go foraging. On the New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map you can deselect trees that aren’t in season so they are not visible.
- Other maps are available for specific areas of the country – just Google ‘foraging map’ with the location you require.
- Follow Glen Eden Transition Town on Facebook to be notified of working bees at the Glen Eden Community Garden and others such as the Savoy Community Garden.
- Artist and Plant Gang leader Liv Worsnop, featured on page 100, says foraging isn’t a free-for-all. You have to give back when you take. Trees need pruning and watering and you should leave enough for others (including the birds and the bees). For more information, especially on the Christchurch red zone, head to plantgang.co.nz.
- Take baskets or bags, secateurs, water and watering can or bottle, smartphone with foraging map and, if you have them, gardening gloves and a stepladder. Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes and clothing.
- Always ask if you are allowed to take produce from a tree on someone’s property, unless the owner has specified on a foraging map that you can help yourself.
- Ask if fruit has been sprayed before eating it, or make sure to wash your produce first.
Photography by: Vanessa Lewis.