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Are foraging tours a thing of the past? Not quite, but some are pushing for a ban.

Ooooh boy. So you know the fun and informative foraging tours that have popped up at various city parks, including those led by our very own Leda Meredith? Turns out the City has decided to make foragers personae non gratae.

From the New York Times:

“If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we’re not going to have any chipmunks,” said Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages Central Park.

City and Park officials express concerns about poachers taking fish and turtles out of the park (definitely not something you’d see on official foraging tours, but something that does, apparently, happen.) They worry about environmental damage from foragers removing plants from delicate areas, and they worry about people accidentally ingesting toxic plants.

Meredith is quoted in the article responding to some of those claims, highlighting the fact that many of the plants she forages aren’t native to this area:

“You’re almost doing the ecosystem in the park a favor by harvesting them,” said Leda Meredith, who wrote “The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget,” which includes a chapter on foraging. Ms. Meredith, who leads tours in Prospect Park, says 70 percent of the plants she collects are nonnative and invasive.

She posted a further rebuttal on her blog, explaining that more education is the answer to these concerns, not less. We spoke with her briefly about her response to the article.

Are you more excited or concerned about the attention that guides like yourself have brought to foraging?

What the increased popularity of foraging means is that it is more important that ever for guides like myself to be out there educating people on how to forage responsibly and with an awareness of the environmental issues. So, I am both excited and concerned.

Are you at all worried about the numbers of people who are now interested in foraging?

The percentage of people who will forage irresponsibly or without enough information to do so safely remains the same. Unfortunately, that means that there are more numbers in that small percentage because there are more numbers overall. Does that mean foraging shouldn’t be done? No — it means more education is necessary. The more drivers there are on the road, the more irresponsible and dangerous drivers there are on the road. Does that mean no one should ever drive? The question we should be asking is what we can do to minimize the number of uninformed, irresponsible foragers.

Do the people who attend your tours generally seem to have a respectful attitude about their responsibilities to the park environment and fellow park-goers?

Absolutely!

What do you tell them to try and encourage responsibility?

I discuss which plants are invasive to the point of crowding out native plants (and so you are in a sense doing the ecosystems a favor by harvesting them) versus plants that, although edible, are rare. With each plant we identify, I emphasize whether or not and if or how that plant can be harvested without endangering it or any other organism in the ecosystem.

From your site it looks like your next tour on the 6th is going ahead as planned, is that right?

Yes, and I’ve sent out an open invite to the Parks Department to have someone come on any of my tours. I invite them to do so unannounced, and they don’t need to identify themselves as being from Parks. I would love for them to experience for themselves how foraging educators including myself are just as concerned as they are that the parks should thrive, and how we are helping (not hurting) that cause.


Editor’s Note: So what do you think? Should foraging be allowed in our parks? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Responses to NYC Moves to Stop Foraging in City Parks

  1. As a forager, I am pro foraging tours.

    Unfortunately the image above makes a case for the ban. You have people on the wrong side of a fence that is protecting an area of vegetation. I know parks workers who are driven nuts by this sort of disregard for their custodial practises. I have seen large groups storm a fence and flatten what’s on the other side. The fences are there for a reason.

    Foragers who lead tours where this happens need to accept some responsibility for the apparently knee jerk reaction on the part of parks officials and custodians.

    Do I see a well known pith helmet on the far side of the fence? :-)

    However I feel strongly that the more people we get into parks to educate about what grows there, the better off our parks will be in the long run.

  2. I can’t say anything Leda hasn’t already said here, except that I had been told from inside that the real concern about foraging is fear of frivolous lawsuits resulting from people claiming they were poisoned by an allowed activity, and going on to sue the city. Good work, Leda!

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