a little note about the following statement: I was visiting some friends in New York City when this article came out. I felt I had to respond mainly because I was there – I realize there are masses of people and very little green space. I know that the size of the population is an issue and that allowing foraging in the parks there causes (and would cause) major problems. However, the following was my initial, knee-jerk reaction and I still believe it would be an amazing project if the city’s parks department would implement some foraging regulations. New York City sets a lot of standards for the rest of the country (another discussion entirely) and I think this ban will have repercussions for foragers and foraging everywhere. It’s an interesting issue. Thanks for your comments!
I tend to steer clear of politics. Of course, I vote. But I’m not one for taking sides. Or at least arguing about them. I’ve always believed in love- and respect- and tolerate-thy-neighbor type values and living by example. I stick with what I know and I try to keep things simple. So, I do a lot of things because I believe they are good and right. Foraging is one thing I do. And apparently, a lot of other folks are doing it too. So many, in fact, that officials are no longer allowing it in New York City parks. Check out this article about it. Now, I suppose, it’s time to express my thoughts on this subject that is, at least in some places, politicized. After all, I also believe in the idea that the personal is political and foraging for food is a personal project of mine that I enjoy sharing with others. So, here’s what I think about all this:
Throughout the years, I’ve noticed a lot of foragers and teachers (me included) simply ignore or brush over any laws that permit (or more commonly don’t permit) foraging in public places. We all have our own beliefs about these things and I’d imagine we’d get several different justifying answers from foragers across the country about why it’s OK to forage on public lands. We’d get just as many answers from conservationists and park managers telling us why it isn’t OK. I respect the opinions, but I believe that foragers have the right to use public lands just like hikers, soccer players and fishers. We are a sub-group of users and should be allowed into the space just like everyone else.
As animals, we have the right to gather foods just like any other wildlife. As humans, we have the ability to think and reason and, therefore, the responsibility to harvest wild foods sustainably. Of course, harvesting sustainably and taking our share is subjective and in hungry, greedy times, might need to be defined and then regulated. Local governments don’t seem to have any problem making up rules and then enforcing them.
It seems that the NYC parks department is trying to prevent the tragedy of the commons, IN the commons. How odd. Why not educate folks and permit certain activities rather than banning it altogether? They let soccer players come onto public land and play soccer in designated areas. In some parks, they let fishers fish if they have a license. So why not get creative about regulating foraging and actually allow people to do it, within reason?
One forager in the article makes the point that by foraging responsibly, we actually encourage plant growth and reproduction. And foraging certainly teaches people about local ecology and the benefits of open, green space. Why not allow foraging of certain things during certain seasons? And limit the amount that is harvested? And offer workshops on how to responsibly harvest things? And distribute foraging licenses? Maybe it’s easier to ban something than to make rules and enforce them? Staff would have to be hired for that. I realize that parks departments are generally under-staffed and can barely keep up with managing the parks they do have, but I think everyone agrees that we need green and open space if for nothing else, to produce the food we eat. It so happens that nature produces a lot of food to eat and we, I believe, should have access to at least some of it! We, the folks that don’t own land, should be able to use the commons for eating just as someone uses the commons for hiking or playing soccer or fishing. Why would we be banned from doing something as universal and essential as eating? Of course, hikers stay on the trail, soccer players stick to their fields so why couldn’t foragers stay in their foraging grounds and be monitored to make sure they only take their share?
I think banning it is not the answer. If foraging truly is an issue like the NYC parks department claims, regulating it might be the way to go.