For Twin Cities foragers, the park is one big picnic

  • Article by: BEENA RAGHAVENDRAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 12:00 AM

The rise in foraging has the Minneapolis Park Board taking a look at landscape changes.

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Veteran forager Charley Underwood, a retired teacher, foraged for cherries from a tree on an Uptown lot. Underwood, who has been foraging for nearly 20 years, said when it’s warm he goes out around two or three times a week to pick berries, flowers and anything else that looks edible.

Photo: Photos by DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

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The cherries Charley Underwood likes to scrounge in Uptown were too ripe at the end of last week. Still, the Minneapolis man donned his straw hat, leaned his ladder against the tree and grabbed at the ones that were crimson and juicy, dropping them into his Folgers coffee can to take home.

Underwood is a forager. He picks edible plants from public and private places that he’ll cook, can or eat.

He has been at it about 20 years, but he is seeing more company as urban agriculture fanatics turn to foraging. Now regulations in Minnesota are changing to match that growing appetite.

On Wednesday, a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board committee will consider a plan that would create “edible landscapes” — areas with food-producing trees, safe from pesticides and vehicle exhaust. Frogtown Park in St. Paul is in the process of developing an urban farm.

The Minneapolis plan, in the works since 2012, doesn’t aim to promote scavenging for wild food as much as to contain it safely, said Ginger Cannon, a project lead with the park board.

“We’re looking to modify that so we can allow for harvesting of food in designated areas,” Cannon said. “We wouldn’t look at opening up the full system — that would have a really bad effect on wildlife ecology.”

Current rules vary. In Minneapolis parks, foraging is not allowed — not flowers, not leaves, not berries. The same goes for anywhere in the city of St. Paul, including parks. In Minnesota state parks, foraging for commercial use isn’t allowed. The Midtown Greenway’s manager, Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, doesn’t mention foraging in its regulations.

For Ed Quinn, a natural resources manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the math justifies restrictions on foraging. If many of the more than 8 million annual visitors to state parks wanted to take a piece of the park home, “pretty soon, you don’t have anything left,” he said. He’s seen hyperactive foragers before.

“People have come and taken large amounts of garbage bags full of things,” Quinn said.

A forager’s heaven

Underwood sees several factors behind the increase in foragers: concern about food security, the push for more locally grown food and the recent recession. He has a simpler reason for doing what he does. “Well, it’s free,” he said.

He forages two or three times a week when the weather is warm, sometimes with his wife, Mary Ann Crolley. He said about 20 percent of what he eats in the growing season is foraged food. All his salads come from foraged ingredients — some of which he finds in his back yard.

His home is a forager’s heaven. He has a stove for maple syrup making and a slew of berry plants in the yard.

He took a bite of lamb’s quarters, commonly considered a household weed. Underwood sees it differently. “A weed is just a plant that’s in the wrong place for you,” he said.

There aren’t many health regulations regarding foraged produce, said Doug Schultz of the Minnesota Department of Health. For example, only wild mushroom identification experts are allowed to sell morel mushrooms in Minnesota.

Kathy Yerich is a certified mushroom expert and forages for Corner Table, a restaurant in south Minneapolis. She was part of a work group that met with the health and agriculture departments in 2012 to expand mushroom sale specifics. The group hasn’t heard anything back yet.

“It’s a long process,” she said.

For his part, Underwood doesn’t pick too close to the sidewalks, for fear of that food being in the radius of dog waste.

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  • With their foraged cherries, Mary Ann Crolley and her husband,Charley Underwood, make kirsch, a liquid made with the fermented fruit.

  • Keeping with their twice- or thrice-weekly routine, Mary Ann Crolley and husband Charley Underwood foraged cherries from a tree on a lot in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

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