Wouldnít plants face mass extinction if everyone took up foraging? This specious argument issues forth from people who presuppose humans to be apart from, not a part of, nature. If youíve educated yourself sufficiently to identify edibles and to avoid toxic plants, you certainly wonít extinguish your objects of study and food source. When an edible is sparse, youíll let it regenerate, while searching for it nearby, where it may be thriving.
Renewable and nonrenewable resources are different. If you pick dandelion leaves, they regenerate. If you cover part of a park with a subway yard (as New York City did at the Willow Lake section of Flushing Meadow Corona Park in Queens), all youíll ever reap is a crop of graffiti.
All living things consume renewable resources, which they recycle. Thatís the basis of ecosystems. We should try to concentrate on using our renewable resources and preserving the nonrenewable ones.
People constantly pick wild plants. Municipal mowers cut down more in an hour than an army of foragers could eat in a season. Anyone with a backyard or garden is constantly pulling up chickweed and uprooting dandelions, often without success. The difference with foragers is that weíre more conscientious about what we pick, and we eat our collections.
Nevertheless, our ecosystems, the source of our economy as well as the basis of all life on this planet, are in trouble. On a local level, park officials show more concern for building baseball diamonds and restaurants in the parks than they do for the wild plants. Itís destruction of habitats, not conscientious foraging, thatís endangering our planet. City agencies are often ready to cut unsavory deals with unscrupulous contractors to ìimproveî the parks and do away with ìall the ugly weeds,î usually at great public expense.
Riding through local New York City parks on my mountain bicycle collecting dinner, I sometimes travel for hours without encountering a soul. Our parks are too often underutilized and neglected. Since nature abhors a vacuum (that must be why my apartment is such a messóIím a naturalist, so I abhor vacuuming!), itís not surprising that sections of certain parks become well-known marketplaces for the drug pushers and hangouts for muggers, and that there is little public outcry over the official ecological vandalism.
We need more responsible foragers, birdwatchers, artifact hunters, amateur entomologists, geologists, zoologists, paleontologists, hikers, runners, and other types of nature lovers, including educated park personnel, in the parks, to displace the undesirable elements and to head off official mismanagement.
We also need more police back in the parks. The Parks Enforcement Patrol, who currently patrol New York City parks, are all too eager to ticket law-abiding citizens for parking violations or other minor infractions. Often happy to defend their superiorsí errors (although some ecologically oriented Urban Park Rangers are doing some good work), theyíre neither empowered nor qualified to go after the violent criminals.
If you use common sense when you forage, instead of doing harm, youíll be adding an important nature lover to the environment.