CITIZEN SCIENTIST WIZARDRY


BLOG 33: I hope you were able to find the courage in my Frontyard Forager article (Madawaska Highlander May / June 2020 issue) and were able to consume some yummy dandelion greens. I just recently learned that you can substitute steamed dandelion stems for pasta ! Now that sounds delicious and healthy ! If I was able to get you grazing from your yard I am now hoping to get out foraging your neighborhood and possibly join the growing community of urban foragers. The position being that if you forage close to home, like in your neighbourhood and its edge lands, then you will most likely go out more frequently to consume fresh, nutrient dense free food. The urban forager's goal is to forage and cook within the hour and consequently satisfy that ancient nomadic pull too.


When I'm forging I can't help but feel connected to the ancestral knowledge of the past gatherers on Earth. I know I exist because they mastered the art of foraging and passed ltheir knowledge down through kin. I feel grateful knowing I can feed myself in a time of crisis and be resilient just like my ancestors.


I'm not a science experiment, so yes, that's right, I don't want artificial flavors or preservatives in my dinner or my body if I can help it. More importantly, I certainly don't want to be stuck with limited food choices dictated to me by the agribusiness giants. I happen to like my teff pancakes thank you very much and this grain shouldn't disappear from the shelves just because more money is banked on a cheaper crop. Besides wild foods are packed with nutrients their mineral deficient farmed equivalents could never match.


How can one be that fast you ask? You have to know what's growing around the corner, in abandoned fields, lots, forest edgelands, gravel roads, the neighbours fence, municipal treed areas, etc. You also need to do a quick historical background check of your area you will be foraging in order to know if the soil is safe from industry. City historians, planners and foraging groups in your area may have already done this research so contacting them is a great benefit. While strolling your neighborhood you need to actively notice what is growing and where it is growing and also note when certain parts are ready for picking. Over time you will begin to notice the habits of the weeds around you and learn when they are prime for picking. The more you know your good the more successful and faster you'll be in the kitchen.


It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't, especially if you have a smartphone. Yes there is an app for that! There are several identifying apps to choose from, and some are okay, but I found most are not very good at all.


I encourage you to try the iNaturalist because it seems to be the most accurate. This app is produced by National Geographic and has real scientific researchers and citizen scientist members that verify or challenge your findings. It has so many members that identifying the plant in front of you is quick, easy and mostly accurate. I personally call the app the 'citizen scientist wizard'. This app not only is a great tool to conduct your own research but it also does many cool things like map your findings and shows you what else was found in the area like insects, fungi or fauna even. In 2019, a dozen of my iNaturalist observations were tagged for research purposes and that's very cool to me. In fact in 2019 over 20 million identifications were submitted into this app. Most entries were plants followed by insects.


Some people are concerned that we can’t go back to foraging because there are not enough wild foods for all or we’ll eat the world to death. I say please stop attacking the tiny percentage of foragers who actually love and are grateful for every plant they pick and go take up your argument with the soil killers. I heard somewhere that if agribusiness giants continue to add herbicides and pesticides to our soil then all of our quality farmable soil will disappear in 60 years! I predict that soon we will be seeing farmers advertising the mineral content of their farmland soil to entice shoppers into choosing their product. I'm afraid we are pretty close to this sad reality. You don't want this, right. Urban foragers don't want to eat all the planet's food. They want to eat the neighbourhood invasive weeds and bring the hood back to it's natural biodiversical self. Eating invasive species, like garlic mustard or Japanese knotweed, for example, can be a great help in stopping the invasive plants from pushing out native species in your area and ultimately destroying their habitats. Some invasive species have no known predators except humans and I say eat them if they aren't toxic. The very act of eating edible invasive plants makes you a conservationist and steward for your neighborhood's indigenous flora. Wildcrafting is the responsible way to forage indigenous species so please follow its methods so you can eat native plants responsibly.


The iNaturalist app is easy to us. Download the app and point your smartphone's camera at a natural subject and snap 2-4 photos ( or upload photos from your photo library ).You will get a more efficient suggestion list if you take a photo from the top, bottom and side view and also a close up feature. The app will scan photos and suggest similar-looking plants that others have been seen in the same geographic area. One of the first two suggestions listed are usually correct. When you are on a trail you can also open the app to view a map of all previous sightings in the area and each citizen scientist reporter will have their unique coloured map pin. You can follow and comment on other citizen scientist finding's too.


This app allows you to become the neighbourhood expert of the nature surrounding you and document your favourite foraging areas. You can plan a monthly neighbourhood weed walk and get the street involved in the fun. You can engage kids by asking them to draw their favourite weeds after a walk and they will gain a unique relationship with these plants for the rest of their lives. When we create, a drawing for example, we are actually experiencing our own creation and the feeling is incredible and nurturing to children.


With the handy app you can also become a steward for the endangered species discovered in your area and even use your findings to fight developers encroaching your space. The possibilities are endless but more importantly you will become confident in your natural environment, have a unique relationship with the plants in your neighbourhood and more importantly return to the resilient human your ancestors want you to be. Welcome back Earthlings!
















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