I feel that the simple statement of “growing and foraging 100% of my food for a year” is pretty straightforward. However, in 2019 for most of the people reading this, I don’t think it quite hits home what exactly I’m doing. Our current food system is so incredibly complex and most of us are so far removed from it that it has become the mainstream culture to not think about where our food comes from, how it gets to us, and the implications it has on humanity, other species and the earth as a whole. The system has been made so convenient and streamlined that it is very easy for us to not even realize what we are putting into our bodies. If most of us were tasked with writing down a list of all the foods (and “foods”) we are putting into our bodies, I think we’d come up really short.
When I tell people what I’m doing, I typically get questions that quickly tell me that they don’t quite get what I mean by growing and foraging 100% of my food.
Like when a good friend and I make dinner plans, and they know exactly what I’m doing, and they say, “should I bring the wine?” Or when a friend invites me to dinner and I say yes, but that I will supply all the food, and they say ok but say they will cover the salt, oil and herbs.
I completely understand all of this, because we take for granted most of our foods. It’s hard not to take it for granted when it’s been turned into an easily accessibly commodity on the grocery store shelves. Just take salt for example. It’s so inexpensive that it is completely negligible to nearly every person reading this. Few of us would ever imagine having to gather our own salt, or go without it. When I say that I’m growing and foraging 100% of my food, I mean 100% down to the individual grain of salt. In this blog I will lay out and clarify what I mean by this. The world is not a black and white place, and there is no shortage of gray areas, so I will also attempt to bring clarity to any of those.
I’ll start with the obvious. Growing and foraging 100% of my food means that I won’t eat anything from a grocery store or a restaurant. I won’t buy it. I won’t be gifted it. I won’t eat anything from a grocery store or restaurant, period.
I support locally grown food of course. But for this year I won’t buy food from farmers markets or farmers. That is a typical source of food for me outside of this project, but for this year I’m growing my food.
I appreciate gifts, but for this year I won’t receive any gifts of food. If the giver won’t accept a no, or if I’m not in the mood to say no, then I will simply pass the gift onto someone else.
I won’t eat from anyone else’s garden. Not because their food is in any way less ideal than mine. But simply because I didn’t grow it. Once this year is over I will certainly be enjoying food from my friends’ gardens!
I won’t eat food or drink at a party, from someone else’s pantry, at a friend’s dinner, etc. Not a crumb. Not a sip. Not a taste. There are literally no exceptions.
Many people who know of my work, know that I’ve done a lot of dumpster diving to raise awareness about food waste. Dumpster diving is often referred to as foraging, but I will not be eating any food from grocery store dumpsters for this year. On that note, I won’t eat any wasted food, such as leftovers on someone’s plate. I will however utilize wasted food to make compost as well as gas for cooking using a bio digester.
Medicine is not considered food by most people today in US culture, but for this project I am including anything I would swallow. So, that of course means no vitamins or supplements. But it also means any medicines that I would take orally.
I can use topical medicines, and I can externally utilize plants that I did not grow or forage.
The night before this project began, I went to a potluck at a friend’s house and brought all the food in my house with me to give away. I came home with no food, but a full belly, ready to start the next morning.
At my home, I am harvesting and drinking rainwater that falls onto my roof (yes, I do purify it). A vast majority of my water is “foraged” water in this manner. However, I am drinking municipal water as well. I will not drink from any system that adds nutrients to the water, as some reverse osmosis systems do. I don’t think most people consider water to be food, so I still consider myself to be growing and foraging 100% of my food, but I think this is a very worthwhile point to make clear.
I am growing my food 100% without pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, not even “organic” ones. Since planting my first plants in January 2018, I have not used a bit.
A great side effect of all of this is that I won’t eat anything packaged, processed, or shipped long distance for the year. My diet will be comprised completely from whole, local and organic foods.
Now, I’d like to cover the definitions of growing and foraging.
Dictionary.com: the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter.
The Free Dictionary: The act of looking or searching for food or provisions.
Meriam-Webster: the act of foraging: search for provisions
There are quite a few definitions of foraging and some are far broader than others. In some definitions you could forage just about anywhere. Applying the definition, “the act of looking or searching for food or provisions” would allow for searching the grocery store aisles, a friends fridge, or the dumpsters behind a restaurant.” Applying the definition, “the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter” would allow for gathering plants from any garden.
So, I must create my own guidelines of what I consider to be foraging for this project. Outside of this year I would use the word foraging much more loosely, but for this year I’ll have exact standards. I won’t repeat the guidelines that I’ve already listed, so this serves to clarify beyond what is above.
With foraging I have two broad categories: urban foraging and wild foraging. Urban foraging will be applied to all food that is an obviously human designed environment, such as a city. Wild foraging is applied to what would generally be considered “nature” by our society. Those of us who have looked deeper know that this all blurs together and a lot of what appears “wild” was previously domesticated and thus quite influenced by humans, but for the sake of ease I will still use those terms.
First, I will cover wild foraging. Just about any food in the “wild” foraging setting is fair game, but not any food. For example, wild boars would be fair game, but if some pigs or chickens just broke free from a farm a few days ago, I would not consider that foraging. If someone dropped an apple in the woods that would not be foraging, but if they dropped an apple in the woods ten years ago and a seed turned into an apple tree, then eating those apples would certainly be considered wild foraging to me. Escaped domesticated species are fair game if they are naturalized or simply reproducing in nature. Also, if I find an orange on the side of the road, but I can’t find the tree that it fell from, then I would not consider that foraging because for all I know it could have fallen out of someone’s car after they left the store. This should go without saying but my friends can not hide foods in the woods for me to “find.”
Next, urban foraging has slightly more gray areas.
Weeds in an urban setting are all fair game for foraging. The grey area here would be eating unwanted “weeds” in someone else’s garden. I have yet to do this and am still thinking about this.
Any plants that are planted sheerly for the purpose of landscaping and not for food are fair game for urban foraging. Here in Central Florida yaupon holly is planted as a shrub, but what few people know is that it makes a great tea. It is the North US American version of yerba mate.
Fruit trees are a grey area. To sum it up, I consider neglected urban fruit trees to be foraging. Any fruit tree that grew without being planted by a human is urban foraging. We have many loquat, mulberry, and Surinam cherry trees that are basically wild right here in the city. The seeds spread by being eaten by birds and animals and often grow into fruit producing trees.
Because fruit trees live so long, they are very different from a lot of other plants that would be foraged in an urban setting. For this project, I consider any fruit tree that is no longer tended by a human and is existing on its own to be basically “wild” and thus foraging. If someone buys a house and has lived there for years, but has never touched the fruit on the tree, then I consider that to be foraging. If, however, someone planted and utilizes the tree, then I consider that to be a domesticated tree. A friend can’t call me up and tell me to come pick the bounty from their fruit tree. As you can see this is a slightly grey area. But I am being transparent and clear with what I’ll be doing.
The definitions I’ve found for “growing” are much looser, so I won’t use any dictionary definitions. Growing can include tending to and improving the soil and environment, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting (and other details I’m probably missing). I am not doing everything 100% independently (nor would it be possible as animals and natural processes do a majority of the work). I teach free gardening classes for beginners and people help with weeding my garden. When I go out of town I have help with watering. My plots are on other people’s land and they do some watering and weeding and eat as much of the food as they want. I will likely plant 99% of my food, but in my garden classes I am teaching how to plant, so I will have others plant some seeds or plants. I will likely harvest 99% of my food, but when I have a friend over for dinner we often go out to the garden together and harvest food together. At the same time, I am growing far more food than I will eat myself and plan to feed dozens or hundreds of people from food that I grow and forage during this year.
Now to move onto a few more details.
I am not keeping any animals. I contemplated keeping a few chickens to produce eggs (and compost) but decided not to. To be in alignment with this project, I would not be able to purchase feed or a vitamin and mineral supplement that is standard when raising chickens. The logic behind this is that it wouldn’t make any sense to buy food, to feed to an animal, to produce my food, as I would just be outsourcing my task of growing and foraging 100% of my food. I know it is possible to raise chickens without feed and vitamin mixes, but producing a worthwhile amount of eggs is another story. And more importantly, it is my top priority to care greatly for an animal if I am going to keep one and I won’t take that risk with the limitations I have for this year. Goats for milk, rabbits, quails, or raising fish are all other options that I have thought about but have decided not to pursue for the reasons above and my preference for animals to be freely existing.
Bees on the other hand, I am keeping. I have three bee hives. Many people feed their bees sugar to help them through the hard times or to increase honey production. I will not feed my bees sugar because that would simply be converting a purchased food into my own food. Instead, I only take as much honey as the bees have in excess and leave them plenty. My bees are all rescued bees. Rescued or feral bees may be more resilient than bees purchased through most apiaries because they are adapted to the local environment, and thus may need less of the modern beekeeping niceties.
Along the lines of chickens and bees, the next living organisms to discuss are bacteria and yeast. I don’t think most people think of bacteria and yeast as food, but they are absolute necessities for our existence. (On a side note, I highly recommend reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.) Probiotics are bacteria, so if you eat yogurt, then you are eating billions of bacteria. That is just one example of the many ways that we consume vast quantities of bacteria.
I will be doing a fair bit of fermentation this year and there are a few guidelines I’ve created. I am primarily doing wild fermentation, which means I am “harvesting” bacteria and yeast from my local environment. In reality, simply by me creating the scenario to come tp, they harvest themselves for me. I’ll save a deeper explanation of wild fermentation for another day, or again you can read the book by the fermentation king, Sandor Katz. I will not use any commercial yeast, which limits me from making a lot of ferments. The one fermentation that I plan on doing that is not wild fermentation is Jun. Jun is a ferment of tea and honey, similar to kombucha, except honey is used instead of sugar. Jun uses a SCOBY, symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. I got a SCOBY before this project started and am now using it to grow my own. In this way my Jun will be 100% homegrown including the SCOBY, the green tea which I’ve grown, and the honey from my bees.
I am not completely independent of others who grow food or our globalized food system. The compost I used to start my garden is mushroom compost, the byproduct of mushroom farms. It would take at least a few years to build up land to be completely independent and for the sake of this project, I was not going to do that. The land that I am growing on has likely never been farmed or gardened, or at least not in the time span where any nutritionally rich soil is left from it. Plus, I only prepared for about ten months before beginning this year, which is not enough time to build ample fertility. My purpose is not complete self-sufficiency or independence. I’m all about growing food as a community and using whatever resources make the most sense.
I do buy seeds and plants. A vast majority of the food that I’m growing I started from seeds or cuttings. A small percentage of my food is being grown from plants that were given to me or that I bought at a nursery. An important guideline is that I won’t eat from these plants until I’ve been growing them for long enough where I feel comfortable saying I’ve grown the food. For example, if I purchase a six-week old pepper plant that is five inches tall, and has a pepper on it already, I won’t eat that pepper. Once it is a mature plant that is productively producing peppers, then I will eat from it. Along those same lines I will not buy seeds for the sake of sprouting to eat, because that would outsource the vast majority of the growing. If I want to do sprouting, I have to grow the seeds to sprout.
I am extremely careful to make sure I don’t accidentally eat any foods that I didn’t grow or forage. I’m even paying close attention to anything that enters or touches my mouth. I almost always use my own dishes to prevent residual food from other people’s dishes, and only use other dishes if I can be certain that food is not left on them. I don’t drink from other water bottles, as there’s often flavors imparted into them from people that put other drinks in them besides water. A friend’s cast iron pot or pan is something I certainly could not use because they absorb the food and oils that are cooked in them and then release into the food when cooking.
The non-food gray areas that I’ve come across so far are my toothpaste, essential oils and kissing. I use a toothpaste that I purchase from the store, and I know that I am swallowing very residual amounts sometimes. I wear essential oils (mostly lavender) and sometimes I get a little bit in my mouth. I use a toothbrush, a chew stick, and floss made from silk, that I did not grow or forage and am sure that as they make contact with my mouth, minuscule amounts could enter my system. And well, kissing, sometimes my partner is wearing lip balm or body oil that goes into my mouth. Also, I am certain that I am consuming some micro-plastics, as they are certainly in my garden and in the wild where I forage.
All of these details have been quite interesting for me to follow. So far, it has been a deep immersion in paying attention to what enters my body, and I have nothing but positive gains from this immersion. The one impairment to my life that I had not thought of prior to starting this project, is that using my sense to taste is limited. There is a lot that one can learn from tasting something. But if I didn’t grow or forage something for this year I am not tasting it. The main area where that has played a role is using my sense of taste to identify plants in other people’s gardens when helping them. (Just to be clear, because I know some people will be thinking this, I don’t use my sense of taste to identify unknown items that would pose a risk to my health.)