Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable

Foodie Finder

Sign up for our


 * required

Foraging for a Mentor

Jul 15, 2013 09:00 AM

Posted by Jason Vistoli

"A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

This past long weekend I was fortunate enough to get out of the city and visit a relative's cottage  in Muskoka. During the stay younger members of my extended family kept asking to go on a nature walk.

I don't know too many 5- and 8-year-olds that have such a strong passion for the great outdoors.  In a short  time we found a water snake, about a million dead and alive bugs, some really interesting mushrooms and above all a huge patch of wild strawberries!

Fighting the hoards of mosquitoes, we managed to scrounge up a small cup of the tasty little morsels in a short amount of time.

Walking around with my cousins made me think of how I learned to forage for food with my Nonno back when I was their age. We would go on walks in the fields and parks around where he lived (Jane and Eglington in Toronto) and would gather raspberries, strawberries, mushrooms, dandelions, mulberries and chicory. I look back on those times as a fundamental part of my character building. I don't think I'd have the same interest or connection with the natural world if my Nonno didn't have that connection with me.

Foraging Barriers:

A fellow urban farmer mentioned that one of the barriers with people learning about the natural world is a lack of connection with our guides. With my own experience, my Nonno enjoyed our time together as much as I did. What he taught me was just extra to an already good time. I was fortunate to have this connection but many others are not. Fostering ecological knowledge in our youth is made much easier when a strong connection is created.

Urban Foraging - a paper by University of Waterloo students Laurel McConnell and Bounmy Inthavong - describes four other barriers which  prevent people from the pleasure of sourcing wild foods.

  1. Knowledge of edible plants

    These barriers are partly the result of a loss of traditional ecological with respect to our food. The knowledge that our ancestors hold, is no longer being passed to younger generations. All it takes is subscribing to an edible plant workshop to help rekindle the wonder and make connections with the people in our community.
  2. Unsustainable in long-term

    With an increasing population it is unsustainable to insist millions of people begin foraging to supplement meals. Foraging is an minor piece of our food system, but it is one that creates lasting bonds between people and nature. Perhaps foraging for the masses should be used as a tool for this purpose?
  3. Requires time and effort

    This one is a poor excuse: foraging is such a great way to spend time outside with family and friends! Save time by noting good spots and join a naturalists' group (like the Kitchener Waterloo Field Naturalists) to learn good local sources.
  4. Lack of  environments where wild foods are likely to flourish

    This stems from our obsession with over-grooming green spaces. Instead of designing  green spaces to make them function how we want, we should focus on how they are meant to function as a part of the greater system.

Foraging tips:

  • Keep your eyes moving - Try not to focus on just the path in front of you. Look side to side, and up and down at all times. It's odd at first but it really works. This is an old hunters' technique. It's remarkable how much wildlife and interesting plants you will see.
  • Harvest respective to the size of patch - If there is only one or few fruits, don't be greedy and pass this one by. Maybe note the location and come back in a year to reap the rewards of your politeness.
  • Be sure of what you are harvesting - Take the time to learn simple classification techniques on your own or through a workshop. Count petals of flowers, shape of flowers, number of pistil, stamen, shapes of leaves, stems number of leaves etc. Taking the time to do this adds to the appreciation of what you are seeking to consume and can prevent some painful mistakes.
  • Avoid harvesting near roads or areas that have been sprayed
  • Share! - If you or someone you know is knowledgeable about wild foods then share that knowledge and the FOOD! 

A good resource for plants in our area :

  1. http://midnightsunherbalhealth.com/more%20about%20edible%20plants.htm
  2. http://ontariowildflowers.com/mondaygarden/article.php?id=168
  3. Little City Farms - Workshops

SAT, SEPT 21 from 1-3 pm - FALL WILD EDIBLES 
Cost: $25 Limited space - pre-registration required. 

 Jackie McMillan, local wild foods enthusiast


Happy Foraging

Post a New Comment 1 comment(s)

Hi Jason,

Thanks very much for the boost for this workshop. One of the challenges your student report didn't mention is over-harvesting, a serious problem in our city parks, especially for native plants like wild leeks, fiddleheads, and wild ginger. Sounds like you and I could have some great conversations about both foraging and mentoring. Are you familiar with the Art of Mentoring program, happening week after next near here? If not, do take a look. There's a link from the Sticks and Stones Wilderness School webpage. I'll look forward to connecting, hopefully soon.

Cheers, Jackie


Login to post a comment.