Commentary: NYC to ban foraging

Wild leeks abound in an upstate New York forest.

As foraging grows increasingly mainstream, an article in The New York Times reported Friday, New York officials have become so concerned with overharvesting in the city’s only green space, Central Park, that they’re now going to enforce a foraging ban. They’re worried about the impact on habitat for critters, especially. “New York’s public lands are not a communal pantry, [officials] say.”

In the article, there is the usual explanation of the difference between digging up roots and removing berries (one can kill the plant, the other doesn’t) and quotes from prominent foragers pointing out that in fact leaves grow back and that there are ways to take from plants sustainably.

It is exciting to see something as primal and wild and money-free as foraging becoming so popular in a sophisticated city many view as the capital of capitalism itself. It’s fascinating to see public ideas about nature change shape as this clash brings up questions like: To whom does wild land belong? How can we be part of nature without killing it? Foragers have important insights to bring.

Anyone with any foresight can see that as the U.S. economy continues to crumble, foraging is going to continue to increase in its appeal. And in a country where most people cannot afford their medical bills, a revival of wildcrafting medicinal herbs will follow, too.

So rather than banning foraging, let’s officially embrace it. Let’s find ways to make the most of it. The government can work with foragers to educate the public on sustainable harvesting and even encourage removal of invasives by posting info on target species and asking people to pull them instead of spending money on toxic spraying. To relieve impact on Central Park, the government can allot more green spaces all over the city. This need not cost much in money or labor: Why not let vacant lots go wild and officially sanction wildcrafting inside of them?

18 thoughts on “Commentary: NYC to ban foraging

  1. Pingback: Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) Annual Meeting | Plants People

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  3. Hey Becky, thanks for the heads-up.

    This bit has been playing on my mind since I read it:

    “New York’s public lands are not a communal pantry, [officials] say.”

    Reaction #1: Oh, okay then – I’ll just forget about it all, down my digging stick and go back home / to work then (asshole).

    #2: Cue hollow laughter from indigenous ghosts: “Not any more they aren’t, thanks to you bastards!” For the original inhabitants of ‘New York’s public lands’, the Lenape:

    Land was assigned to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and cultivation. Individual private ownership of land was unknown, as the land belonged to the clan collectively while they inhabited it.[6] Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted. In a common practice known as “agricultural shifting”, the group then moved to found a new settlement within their territories.

    The Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture to augment a mobile hunter-gatherer society in the region around the Delaware River, the lower Hudson River, and western Long Island Sound. The Lenape were largely a sedentary people who occupied campsites seasonally, which gave them relatively easy access to the small game that inhabited the region: fish, birds, shellfish and deer. They developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources.

    By the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Lenape were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique. This extended the productive life of planted fields.[7][8][9][10][11][12] They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bays of the area,[13] and, in southern New Jersey, harvested clams year-round.[14] (Wikipedia)

    #3: Fuck you / we’ll just see about that.

    Though I respect your more, shall we say, ‘constructive’ response 😉


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  5. I say let them ban foraging in public parks there. There are too many people that read an article or see it on TV and think it’s cool to forage in a limited space like that. If even a tiny percentage of New Yorkers tried foraging inside NY, it would be stripped bare.

    Now I can also say that because those that need it the most and those that deserve to be able to, can, since the know how to do it covertly!
    If you have the skills to not get caught, you might also know how to caretake. :)

    If they did some sort of license with cartaking training required, and maybe a minimum time commitment to improving the park rather than just foraging, that would be good.

    Otherwise put up a sign: “Foraging for Scouts only!”

    • You can put me in the camp of Fergus Drennan. I am morally against anything beyond personal use. It creates that very barrier between the consumer that has led us to the miserable food supply we have. I see little value in defining wild food as something that just tastes good on someone’s plate. It will inevitably bring people literally in the field for only commercial reasons, and they will not put in what they take out. Its the same reason why anyone can angle for fish but not use a 50 hook trout line.

      I view it the same way as I do a sidewalk. You may walk on it anytime you like , but you may no live on it. Nor shall a public resource be your livelihood.

  6. I think the point here is education. I hate to suggest more regulation, but you need a license to fish in most places– so why not a license to forage? In order to apply, you’d have to take a class, attend a workshop, do something to demonstrate knowledge– of both the plant being harvested & the ecosystem around it. My husband & I forage, but we also volunteer in our local park, learn from the rangers how to care for the land, & have seen people unfamiliar with the area pick an area bare of things like mushrooms & berries. I’ve also seen areas where people picked mushrooms, but maybe not knowing what they had, just tossed the shroom back wastefully. Education is a key. Thanks for this post.

  7. If you turn nature into a museum, a museum is the only place you will find it.

    Perhaps I am naive to expect other people not to over harvest long lived perennials. I have certainly left solomon’s seals, false solomon’s seals, jack and the pulpit, and trout lilies alone unless I see plenty. I have also reintroduced it where idiots previously allowed lily of the valley or the trendy hosta on my own property. I had to go see a doctor for an infected thumb stuck by a thorn when I was beating back one of the worst invasives ever, buckthorn as it was crowding out one of the few remaining choke cherries. I don’t know how many invasive weeds I have eaten including many a garlic mustard root purees and pesto, wild carrot, wild parsnip, burdoc, thistle, sow thistle, wild lettuce etc.

    I tend to bore easily in a museum, nor will I tend a forest that is reserved for the hunting grounds of the nobility. I will leave it to its buckthorn and garlic mustard fate which are as numerous and ferocious as the Mongols who emerged from the deep of Asia like rats from rising water. They will lay siege to the weak and mouldering walls of voluntarism that does not feed its standing armies.

    Those few remaining admires of an alien landscape will still need for meat and drink, and then a real wilderness will be turned to farmland. Trees will be felled in the forest, but the bird watchers will not hear nor see it;nor will they see the the crumbled mountain to dig out the coal, nor the road that was laid to bring it to them. Where there is a wiff of smog carrying fruit, there is fire in the wilderness.

  8. Community Supported Reforestation? I like the sound of that. While I do think that some regulation my be needed in areas with dense population, I love how a huge polluting monster of a city, is worried about the very few plants that they haven’t paved over.

  9. Its long time ago that ihave been in New York. and i just can relate to lacal plant here in Germany. And isee the pollution and the plants not getting well again of it. So i think its quiete human to protect them. i can understand that this is also bias. And i think the only way is if its possible to garden wild plants. wild harvesting will always lead to extinction if the ecosystem cant recover that fast.

    so what can people do locally. Here foraging isnt that popular. probably the evironemtn is less poluted than in central park. still im glad that they ban the foraging . I also understnad the anger behind the not baning will. still i think if plant are there and not foraged, people learn them and smell them and see them. eating is so fast. you know. sometimes we just have to eat air to be satisfy.there will be other places to farage which recoer more easily. or people could feel animated to grow wild plants or to plant wild edibles in central park when harvesting one.

    Maybe that is a plan for the future. For every wild edible you harvest, plant three.Still plants need some time till they getcomon to the soil and grow good. not all . Some need time.

    • Actually, that’s not true that harvesting will always lead to extinction with wild plants. Where I live, most of the wild edible plants are invasive non-native species that are actually threatening the ecosystems. Not only would be be close to impossible to overharvest those specific invasive species, such as Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed), but you would actually be helping the other plants by doing so. The key is to be educated about which species are rare or do not reproduce quickly, which are invasive, and what the impact of your harvesting will be in your particular area.

  10. If officials are concerned about over harvesting in NYC’s “only greenspace” surely a more logical approach is to create more greenspace or access to greenspace rather than trying to ban foraging? Perhaps some actual facts on the impact of foraging in the area would be pertinent?

    I am writing up some research on using wild plants (in Britain) and funnily enough everyone talked about collecting things that were abundant. In contrast a plant that used to be abundant and is rarer now because of habitat loss has dropped out of use. The obvious reason is that if you want to eat something spending a lot of time and effort getting it is not worth it; and there is a lot of research proving that time and time ago. (Check out the mathematics on the !Kung and mongongo nuts – people go for maximum return for minimum effort). Additionally people want to be able to go back and collect things the next year so they don’t want to over harvest and loose the resource. People also talked about leaving enough for the birds and other animals. So collecting was very much moderated by ecological awareness.

    I think the parks department in NYC could do with linking up with an ethnobotanist (of which I am sure there are quite a few attached to the various botanical gardens there) to establish some real evidence on what the impacts actually are and looking at the range of solutions.

    The big question is in the realm of political ecology: would NYC still function as a city if the only people left in it are the people who are rich enough to afford to own their outdoors space?

  11. I like the idea that lands could be considered a communal pantry; nice implication, officials. It makes me think about co-op markets or community-supported agriculture groups that lend some centralized organization to meeting human needs for plant material. (My sense that the central organization might be necessary has to do with my fears surrounding inequality of access to resources, perhaps most catastrophically through over-harvesting that threatens sustainability.) Might something like a CSA model work for the management of lands designated for foraging? Also, what might be the advantages and disadvantages of having a few “official” or “expert” foragers perform the harvesting as a service to the rest of the community (instead of all people foraging on their own)?

  12. Quite a few interesting points here. Unfortunately I have seen the results in State Parks which are posted not to take the plants and yet I have personally seen so many not only take them, but strip them bare. I believe this is a repercussion of those who take advantage and destroy more so than the city being a jerk.

    There is also the unfortunate fact that if the City allows foraging and someone accidentally, or by limited knowledge harvests a toxic species and becomes ill, or even dies, believe me they will sue the pants off the city because if foraging is advocated then it will now be the “responsibility” of the City to allow only safe plants to grow. Costing more time and money, but perhaps a better idea would be the establishment of community gardens – but even they have significant problems with one person taking more than their share and then next wanting fair share of harvest but never being able to find time to help with the work in any way.

    Working with people en mass is a pain in the butt and often an exercise in frustration and futility.

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