DIY for­ag­ing

DIY re­dis­cov­ers ur­ban for­ag­ing

Broken Pencil - - Table Contents - by Melissa Keyser and Jonathan Valelly …

In a new book with ECW Press, He­lena Mon­crieff zooms in on for­ag­ing ur­ban fruit trees. In­spired by or­ga­ni­za­tions like Not Far From The Tree, which har­vests ur­ban fruit trees and splits the haul be­tween com­mu­nity groups and the home­own­ers, The Fruit­ful City ex­am­ines our re­la­tion­ship to waste, cities, hunger and, of course, fruit.

Mon­crieff points out that way too much of the po­ten­tial ur­ban fruit har­vest, like ap­ples and ber­ries, sim­ply goes to waste. So much so that there’s lit­tle rea­son to worry about over­har­vest or beat­ing out birds and other an­i­mals who can reach higher than hu­mans any­way.

“There’s a lot of food out there to be had for free!” says He­lena Mon­crieff. “Look for fruit trees — once you see them, you can’t un­see them!”

“There are 1.5 mil­lion pounds of fruit pro­duced in Toronto alone ev­ery year. That’s a lot,” says Mon­crieff. “How much of it are we pick­ing? We don’t know, but I would say not much at all.”

For Mon­crieff and Not Far From The Tree, this un­der­uti­lized har­vest can be a crit­i­cal re­source for ad­dress­ing food se­cu­rity and in­equal­ity. Look­ing to the food sources all around us is more im­por­tant than ever.

And they’re not the only ones. For­ag­ing, also known as wild har­vest­ing, is as old as hu­mankind. But as fac­tory farm­ing and gro­cery stores in­creas­ingly dis­con­nect peo­ple from their food and nat­u­ral re­sources, the DIY com­mu­nity and so many others have re­newed pop­u­lar in­ter­est in gath­er­ing plants, ber­ries, nuts and other nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring, wild re­sources.

Caitlin ffrench, an in­de­pen­dent tex­tile artist based in Van­cou­ver, uses for­aged wild plants and weeds as both the medium for her art­work and the art it­self. ffrench cre­ates botan­i­cally-based

“I be­came re­ally con­scious and aware of who I took in the for­est, who I taught, and what are my mo­ti­va­tions.”

pig­ments and teaches wild­craft­ing work­shops through­out Canada.

She learned how to work with nat­u­ral dyes at school, but for­ag­ing has al­ways been a part of her life.

“Grow­ing up, my fa­ther hunted and my mom col­lected fruit from an or­chard and would pre­serve the bounty. Grow­ing plants and for­ag­ing for ed­i­bles just made sense.” Some of ffrench’s favourite for­aged ma­te­ri­als are tansy, which she uses to cre­ate shades a green-yel­low colour, and black wal­nuts, which pro­duce bril­liant shades of earth.

“Be­cause I’m not con­sum­ing the plants, I can har­vest from the side of the road, from al­ley­ways, and from for­got­ten spa­ces around the city,” she says. “Brake dust, garbage, car ex­haust and the like don’t mat­ter when all you’re look­ing for is pig­ment!”

ffrench makes sure to har­vest as eth­i­cally as pos­si­ble. That means “not to take the first plant I see, be­cause it may be the last, nor the first of the sea­son. I don’t take the first blos­soms of the year be­cause those are foods for pol­li­na­tors, and I stop col­lect­ing flow­ers around the Har­vest Moon or the Au­tumn Equinox and leave those for wildlife.”

In­deed, many artists and DIY for­agers alike are look­ing closely at the po­lit­i­cal stakes of find­ing food and mak­ing ur­ban agri­cul­tures. Hor­ti­cul­tural Coun­ter­pow­ers Zine, based in Van­cou­ver, is what cre­ator Madi­son calls “a zine about how plants fig­ure, metaphor­i­cally and lit­er­ally, within Marx­ist con­cep­tions of ur­ban space. It’s part a field guide, a ref­er­ence, a map, and a hand­book to the po­et­ics and erotics of plant life in the city.”

When Hor­ti­cul­tural Coun­ter­pow­ers first started, Madi­son was work­ing

through ideas both about plants and ur­ban space. “I played around with some ideas and con­tent that looked a lot closer to how ur­ban for­ag­ing zines tend to look,” she says, “gar­den­ing/moon cal­en­dars, writ­ing about pick­ing flow­ers from al­leys, info about culi­nary and medic­i­nal uses for ur­ban plants.”

“But, just cel­e­brat­ing plants wasn’t quite click­ing with the po­lit­i­cal frame­works and mod­els, es­pe­cially Marx­ist ones, that I was get­ting more into at the time,” Madi­son says.

She aims at help­ing nour­ish the for­ag­ing move­ment “in terms of use­ful po­lit­i­cal ac­tion or or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Madi­son’s zines make sure to con­sciously ad­dress the way set­tler colo­nial­ism is at play in home­steading or other farm­ing projects on un­ceded land. She wants to open con­ver­sa­tions about how grow­ing and har­vest­ing plants can still be an act of po­lit­i­cal re­sis­tance.

For Dionne Paul, a Sechelt Na­tion and Nux­alk Na­tion artist based in Van­cou­ver, there is a si­mul­ta­ne­ous joy and anx­i­ety at see­ing an in­creased en­thu­si­asm for for­ag­ing both in the for­est and in ur­ban set­tings.

“It’s su­per trendy, which I ap­pre­ci­ate, be­cause more peo­ple should be go­ing back to the land and har­vest­ing medicines in a real true way in­stead of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, whether they’re First Na­tions or not,” she ex­plains. “But it’s also scary to think about over­har­vest­ing … I don’t want our land tram­pled.”

Paul, who has in­cluded tra­di­tional cedar bark har­vest­ing in her role as an artist and teacher for more than two decades, re­cently found an ex­cess of stripped trees in her favourite for­est.

“I had a sink­ing feel­ing of dread,” she re­mem­bers. “I be­came re­ally con­scious and aware of who I took in the for­est, who I taught, and what are my mo­ti­va­tions.”

As en­thu­si­asm for for­ag­ing grows, Paul re­minds new for­agers who are gath­er­ing on tra­di­tional lands to ask for per­mis­sion from the au­thor­i­ties of the lo­cal First Na­tions, and to be con­scious of your role if you are a set­tler or from an­other Na­tion.

Lori Snyder, a Métis artist and gath­erer based in B.C., echoes these sen­ti­ments.

“Peo­ple can be so blind to na­ture, and we’ve been col­o­nized away from that re­la­tion­ship,” says Snyder, who also runs work­shops. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant that we all start to go, ‘What is our story, how did we get here?’”

For Snyder and so many others, har­vest­ing is not only a ru­ral or for­est ac­tiv­ity — we can, and ought to, re­con­nect with the plants all around us in the city.

“As soon as you walk out­side your door, you can start en­gag­ing in this re­la­tion­ship,” says Snyder.

In­deed, re­fram­ing our re­la­tion­ship to plants sits at an in­ter­sec­tion be­tween per­sonal prac­tices and art, and broader pos­si­bil­i­ties for col­lec­tive move­ments and well-be­ing. As Dionne Paul sug­gests, let’s get in touch with our back­grounds, our land, and our mo­ti­va­tions. And, she adds, “most im­por­tantly — get ex­cited!” Happy for­ag­ing, friends!

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