Urban food foraging – coming to a city near you!


Urban food foraging – coming to a city near you!

‘And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger’ God


Scrumping, gleaning, wildcrafting, scavenging.. I like to call it ‘Urban Foraging’. It’s what our ancestors did, but in our new world of towns and cities. Here grow an abundance of self-seeded, home-grown and guerrilla gardened goodness, laden and ready for the picking. Most fruit and veg bought in the city has travelled long distances over land and seas. Huge amounts of energy is wasted in this way and we have become alienated from our food and farmers.

Urban harvesting benefits on all levels. It saves money (free food!), reduces waste (all that fruit isn’t rotting in the gutters), and builds community (both by encouraging interaction between strangers when asking permission and within foraging groups themselves). We can also get some exercise, eat fresh food and reduce agribusiness demand.

Getting Involved

It’s as easy as grabbing a mate and an empty bag, and going for a wander around your neighbourhood! You’ll be surprised what you will find.

This is, of course, how the sneaky revolution began, and now many switched on entrepreneurial foragers have created groups within cities, devising websites which link to googlemaps. These show exact locations of abandoned or un-harvested trees and plants in cities. The initiator was probably Urban Edibles, a web-based collaboration of resources, based in Portland, Oregon, USA.


‘This project aims to make more available the natural food sources throughout the city that go undiscovered each year. Nut trees, berry patches, unsprayed fields of dandelion roots, are all welcome. We invite you to share the sources you already know of, search for new ones with your friends, and participate in our official scouting days.’ www.urbanedibles.org

Now there are many more in countries across the globe, even Australia! Permablitz have mapped out Brisbane’s streets and do workshops and Foraging Tours with info on what to harvest and how to eat/cook/store it (check out the video from For Greenies)

‘Mapping the edible urban landscape is updating our view of the city. We can identify its green arteries and make visible an unseen infrastructure that is vital to the health of its inhabitants.’ Augmented Foraging, the Labarynth (check out their site for lists of links to maps)

roadside-flowersEthical Scrumping

To maintain this wonderful food source, it’s really important to be friendly and ask permission, be generous by leaving food for others, be alert for chemicals and be careful not to eat poisonous plants or include protected plants on any maps. We need to protect our sources by not over harvesting and by taking care of the plant if it needs it. If it’s an abandoned tree, it may need help! Also, don’t forget to save seeds and REPLANT!

Urban Edibles ethical guidelines

  • Don’t take more than you need. ‘A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting, but how many will you use before they go bad?’ 
  • Ask permission before you pick. ‘We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting or trespassing’
  • Pick in a balanced and selective manner . ‘The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest’
  • Watch out for pesticides and other contaminants. ‘Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills, and even car wash run-off can affect the quality of the sources you pick from’

New Innovations and Projects

Another information packed website is Augmented Foraging, The Liberynth. It lists links to 28 actual maps of wild urban food from all over the world, including Australia, also pollution maps and other references and resources. It details the new pilot project combining the ancient skills of foragers with the newest mobile media by creating a mobile phone guide to edible urban wild-food sources, aptly named ‘Baskoi’ (‘grazer’ in Greek). Created in first instance for Amsterdam urban_edibles as an Ushahidi based app for Android phones, which have an inbuilt GPS. It is sure to ‘bring together biologists, botanists and gardeners introducing them to opportunities that we think mobile technologies offer to science and on the other hand tech-nerds and youngsters to connect them through digital media that they live with to the perhaps unknown world of the living environment.’

‘Working closely with urban-biologists, botanists, cooks, nerds and enthusiastic citizens, Boskoi brings the ancient skills and knowledge of foragers to a contemporary platform.’


There are also groups popping up around the world organised on more of a ‘gleaning’ basis.

Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot, or be ploughed after harvest. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleaning_Network)

These groups collect un-harvested fruit and veg, saving it from rotting away un-noticed, and distribute it to organisations and people in need, such as primary schools and the homeless.

Check out this wonderful Landshare YouTube clip

‘Non-profit groups often collect unwanted food from orchards, canneries etc. and distribute them to the poor, or sell a small profit to keep running costs down. This is known as a ‘gleaning’ system; many thousands of tonnes of unwanted food is so re-distributed in the USA. Givers take a tax reduction on a gift to a gleaning trust (any church or public trust).’ Bill Mollison, Towns and Cities as Farms, Designer’s Manual

Encouraging Abundance

It’s great to get all this food for free, but if we want everyone to do it, with the goal of eventually eliminating monoculture farming and import/exports, we need to maintain, plant and replant.

There are three main ways to participate

  1. Individually – Plant fruit/nut trees around he perimeter of your own place! Grow pumpkins over your fences and passion-fruit up your garage walls. Plant seeds of whatever fruit/veg you’re eating on your walk as you go.

  2. As a group – Start, or get involved in a community garden or do some sneaky guerilla planting in public spaces.

  3. Encourage your local council to plant and support food-scapes. Councils may be especially receptive to bushfood public plantings as it’s classified as native regeneration!

Public plantings are wonderful things. We can:

    • Share produce – laden trees are too much for one family anyway, it’s a way of feeding the hungry
    • Encourage people to SEE food growing and collect from nature, not supermarkets, while providing fresh food and nutrients to those who may not have the opportunity to acquire otherwise
    • Create Gene Banks to maintain species for future generations
    • Encourage wildlife for fruit/berries/nuts/flowers and,
    • You don’t need your own land and you can harvest again any-time

    So… get Scrumping!

    Toni Robinson

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