Foraging for Hidden Harvests

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Eric Kelly of Charm City Farms

Eric Kelly of Charm City Farms

Eric Kelly doesn’t really believe in weeds. Or rather, he’s got radically different ideas about weeds than most people. As far as he’s concerned, almost every plant has value, either as food or medicine, or because it’s doing some kind of work in the soil. Clover, for example, which some people make great efforts to eradicate from their lawns, does an excellent job fixing nitrogen in the soil. Symbiotic bacteria take up nitrogen from the air, transfer it to the roots, and then leave it in the soil to nourish other plants. The flower and the leaves of purple clover, says Eric, are medicinal, as well.

“A weed is any plant that grows in a place you don’t want it to,” he says. “The only plant I ever weed out is grass.”

Also known as the “Mangy White Bushman,” Eric teaches Baltimore denizens how to find food in unexpected places. Read More >

In Search of Baltimore Foragers

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Portulaca oleracea, aka purslane

Portulaca oleracea, aka purslane

“Most people have foraged for food at some point,” says Brent Kim, one of the researchers conducting Bountiful Baltimore, a study on Baltimore foraging. “If you’ve picked a wild berry and eaten it, you’ve foraged.”

Modern humans have been foraging for wild plants and fungi for 200,000 years. In comparison, humans have only been farming for about 12,000 years. But while we have a lot of documentation about our agricultural practices, we’re only beginning to understand the behaviors of present-day foragers—the who, what, where, why, and how. Much of what we know Read More >

Wild about Eating Wildly

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Eating-Wildly-Ava-ChinBecause of Ava Chin, I now photograph weeds and mushrooms that pop up after a rain. Her memoir, Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, has inspired me to ask, before I put on gardening gloves and tear something out by its roots, “But can I eat this?”

As the The New York Times’ former “Urban Forager” columnist, Chin has been writing enthusiastically about her hunts for wild edibles for years, and Eating Wildly rounds up those tales and weaves them with personal stories. While we scan meadows and roadsides and trees with her to find her bounties, she tells us about her childhood in Queens, her challenging single mother, her devoted Chinese grandparents, and her plight as a single, 30-something woman for whom it’s much more difficult to uncover a loving partner than, say, prized morel mushrooms. Read More >

Urban Foraging in Asheville, NC

Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

Research Assistant

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

While accompanying my fiancé to Asheville, N.C. for one of her residency interviews, I found myself bouncing around from coffee shop to coffee shop in downtown Asheville, scooping up free internet, downing coffee, handling bits of work, bits of personal business and trying to think about whether I could live here for the next 4+ years.  Then I remembered an article we had read in the New York Times about an “Edible” park in Asheville.  I quickly looked it up, and found out that Asheville indeed had embarked on an edible park based on the foundations of permaculture and “edible forest gardens

Canopy of Fruit Trees

Canopy of Fruit Trees

I drove five minutes out of downtown and found a small park with a recreation center, looking out onto city hall.  As you walk down a path through the park, what you see are grapes lining the fence of a basketball court with fig trees, elderberry trees, and kiwis both growing and vining through fence-like structures.  Further down the path are apple trees, peach trees, berry bushes and other edible plants that I couldn’t recognize due to the coming winter season.  Everything in this area of the park is both edible and representing of mini-ecosystems called “edible-forest gardens.”  Planted next to the fruit trees are plants that work in symbiosis with the fruit tree, much like the different species in a forest.  I saw herbs that attract pollinators, ground cover like lemon balm and strawberries that keep the ground moist, avoid evaporation and block out weeds.  Other perennials like borage, comfrey and purple tree collards act as dynamic accumulators, which bring important minerals from the soil and make them available to the surrounding plants, while plants like artichoke act as natural “mulchers” that continually feed the soil.  I did not see all of these plants present, but I can understand that is their vision. Read More >