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Urban Foraging


Joined: Jan 04, 2011
Posts: 8
Hey All,
    I am curious to hear your stories around any urban foraging adventures you have had. I know that this can be a very rewarding experience and have loved checking in with city folk if I can harvest from their trees for things like apples, etc.

What are somethings you have had to look out for as well? I have never had any issues with herbicides, or people getting angry... what about you?

Andreas Brevitz

Joined: May 05, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: Sweden, Stockholm
One of the things growing in urban Stockholm is nettles (Urtica dioica), which would be great for urban foraging though I just found out you probably don't want to eat those. Apparently they need a lot of nitrogen, and the reason they grow everywhere here is because of all the dogs peeing everywhere. I guess there is a big risk for contamination of some kind. Just what I heard though. Same thing goes for the ground-elder. (Aegopodium podagraria)
So I would just want to advice anyone going for urban foraging to consider what pets might have relieved themselves on your potential food.

And this is probably not the kind of "foraging" you meant, but I find myself going through the dumpsters behind local supermarkets very often nowadays. It's surprising how fresh food you can find! This, ofcourse, is illegal (at least here in Sweden) and I don't suggest anyone else tries it (unless you have liberal dumpster-laws where you live, then I STRONGLY suggest you go for it). I even had one of the employees come out, greet me, throw more food in the dumpster, then leave. All while I was going through their trash. I guess I was lucky. =)

Joined: Apr 19, 2011
Posts: 114
Location: South Carolina Zone 8
Aside from the mentioned potential of animal and human waste contamination you also run into a greater potential for chemical contamination. Now this does not mean you can't dig the dandelion out of the flowerbed in front of city hall and eat it safely but there is a greater risk involved than eating the same dandelion growing wild in a field out in the sticks. I would also advise caution when picking fruit off someone's tree because they may have had the same plan. What I would look for is the older person (or couple) who might welcome someone who was able to pick the fruit for them for a share of the harvest. As far as dumpster diving for food I am not going there because it carries an obvious risk aside from being illegal in most places.

A story I would like to share is one time I found a local agri college had a small campus near where I was living several years ago. They had a couple rather large trees I was unfamiliar with and I could see a small orange colored fruit. Turns out when I went and asked about it they were a type of orange called calimundin and were more than happy for me to pick any I could reach from the ground (no use of a ladder due to liability). Having had some at my SIL's in Florida I picked several plastic grocery sacks full (all I had in the vehicle at the time). We made marmalade, an orange liquor and stuffed ourselves with fruit before they were all gone. Of course this was years ago before the fence went up and posted students and faculty only due to several break-ins that happened. Since then they have closed that campus due to the economy as well as having had to cut back or charge for many services they once offered for free.
Andreas Brevitz

Joined: May 05, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: Sweden, Stockholm
Well, I don't concider dumpster diving that risky, actually. I respect your opinion ofcourse, but several precautions could be taken, like bringing water and soap for washing hands or gloves, being selective with what you choose to take home. I recommend things like bananas and oranges with a good layer of skin, or even packaged food. Often you find that the expiration date isn't anywhere near passed. Expiration date in itself isn't very accurate to begin with. Actually here in Sweden it isn't called "expiration date". It's called "bäst före" wich translates to "best before". I heard someone from Livsmedelsverket (the equivalent to FDA, I guess) say that the expiry date for eggs (note that this is here in Sweden and I do not know anything about US or any other countries eggs) is based on the notion that people store them in room temperature, whilst if you have it in the refrigerator you could easily add a month to the supposed shelf life. Oh, getting a bit OT here but what ever.
Is there something you think I have missed, or havn't thought about I'd love to hear it. Maybe some "obvious" risk to you isn't that obvious to me. 
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6878
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
In the U.S., I don't know about the legality of dumpster diving, but many supermarkets are more worried about the liability issue (probably more that you break a leg, rather than get sick).  I have heard that many lock theirs or, pour either ammonia or bleach on it to make it "less palatable.  When my sister had rabbits and hens, she talked to the produce manager, and he agreed to give her more "over-the-hill" fruits/veggies than her critters could eat.  She had to promise that it was NOT for human consumption.

Joined: Apr 19, 2011
Posts: 114
Location: South Carolina Zone 8
Andreas quit simply put I live in the US. Aside from what was mentioned by John unless the store has a fruit and vegetable specific dumpster all sorts of things including what has been swept from the floor of the store goes into the same dumpster as well as trash from the bathrooms. Having worked retail years ago I know what that can include and many times I have seen the cheap trash bags rip when transported much less thrown in the dumpster. I have also seen open or leaking containers for things such as detergents, bleach, motor oil tossed in. Keep grocery stores here in the US do not just sell fruits and veggies and many sell all sorts of things. Dumpsters are never washed out and thus are a breeding ground for bacteria as well. Now there is even a more obvious risk involved in many grocery store dumpsters in the US and that is they are compactors as well. I think the main difference in how you and I see it is location. I do not argue there is lots of stuff still "fresh" that grocery stores toss out but once it hits the dumpster even packaging (or peels like bananas or oranges) can become contaminated to the point that it's a risk/reward scenario and to me the reward is not worth the risk.

I only answered this because my statement was called out and I realize the OP was about gathering edibles from yards and other such sources and if you notice in my first posting I covered that and only touched on dumpster diving which I am sure many here would agree is way off topic from the OP and I apologize for my involvement in furthering this diversion off the topic.
Andreas Brevitz

Joined: May 05, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: Sweden, Stockholm
Ok, thanks for clarifying! I will definitely think it over! And yeah, sorry if I went OT. Needless to say I thought of it as an alternative sort of "foraging".
Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 5482
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    I run ads on craigslist and used Victoria in both the freebee and gardening sections asking people to call me if they have fruit trees that need picking. This has led to far more fruit than I could ever harvest. The fruit is organic since these people have generally neglected their trees. I've harvested it commercially. It's also quite common to be offered unwanted bicycles,tools and clothing. When they have mountains of that stuff I usually take it all and give the Salvation Army whatever isn't needed by myself, my workers or my friends. I also place signs at my demolition sales indicating that I will trade for organic meat. I've traded for hundreds of pounds of organic chicken, turkey and beef. Farmers are regular customers at these sales and the ones who go organic are likely to be keen on recycling so it's a perfect fit. Sometimes I get a large demo project which contains more trees than I can handle so I let my customers harvest the fruit. The sites are often being cleared for development so I try to give away the trees as well. One guy salvaged 11 fruit trees with his small excavator and all but one survived. If the trees are too big to move I call woodworkers who specialize in fruit wood. Waste not, want not.

Dale's picks - These are some of my favorite threads. Greed - http://www.permies.com/t/10736/md/unbridled-greed-ambition-compatible-permaculture My garden - http://www.permies.com/t/27910/projects/Dale-Day-Garden ethics - http://www.permies.com/t/11534/permaculture/frustration-ethics Good wood bad wood http://www.permies.com/t/12206/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-Good-wood-Bad-wood Alder - http://www.permies.com/t/10609/plants/Alder-nitrogen-fixation-native-tree Bees - http://www.permies.com/t/10917/bees/time-replace-European-honey-bee Pulling nails - http://www.permies.com/t/10249/natural-building/Removing-nails-recycled-wood-techniques
Thelma McGowan

Joined: Jul 03, 2011
Posts: 170
Location: western Washington, Snohomish county--zone 8b
I and a small group of friends do urban forage for food as well as garden plants. Vacant lots and condemed buildings are always of interest.....these places can be great places to find hearty garden plants that have reproduced and thrived on there own. I avoid maintained areas as someone is bound to take exception if you walk off with a basket of "wild stuff"

we try not to jump fences or tresspass. we do make sure we have a reason for being there. if we don't our joke is that we would state that we are on official business from the " Snohomish County Botanical Preservation Society" trying to save local heirloom species of plants.

I have found many plants very interesting plants and watch out for overgrown fruit trees and bushes.

urban foraging could be better with a friend so as to avoid problems with folks that live in the overgrown urban areas ops:

There are no experts, Just people with more experience.
Lacy VanCam

Joined: Sep 23, 2011
Posts: 42
My husband and I are keen on growing our own food, and we do. But there are some plants that take time to mature, and so we did not have a huge berry harvest this year. So we were out harvesting in and around our town. We came across 4 or 5 large Mulberry trees. We harvested several freezer bags full! It was a lot of fun, and we made tasty jam afterwards!
Marcella Rose

Joined: Nov 09, 2011
Posts: 95
Location: Central Texas, it is dry here.
We need to get aquainted with our new area. I bought an old book called, "Forest Trees of Texas, How to know them..." It lists native nut and fruit trees besides the non-edibles. Maybe we will get lucky and find some edibles around here.

No land yet, but growing what I can with what I have!
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5724
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Marcella, here's a website I like: http://www.foragingtexas.com/

I also like the book "Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest" by Delena Tull.

Idle dreamer

Peta Schroder

Joined: May 25, 2012
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
There are so many delicious weeds on abandoned blocks. I keep shopping bags in the boot of my car so that I can collect my horta while doing errands. I have also found deadly nightshade and poison hemlock on occasion so it's important to ID anything new. I don't take anything near dogs or cars, but nettle grows quite fine without dog pee, I've harvested plenty from house blocks where all the subsoil was exposed. It doesn't seem a very fussy plant at all.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6878
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
For those of us living in the Pacific North West, this is a handy guide to many of the native plants that are edible.
The guide explains the parts that are edible, as well as preparation hints.


subject: Urban Foraging