A new book, The Bay Area Forager, argues that foraging not only helps keep unwanted food from going to waste but can also fight the spread of invasive plants and promote sustainability. So go ahead: Grab an apple. Organize a neighborhood harvesting party. Cook some acorn pâté. Just make sure that you get the property owners' permission first and that you're not about to ingest something harmful. Across the U.S., mobile apps and other technologies are helping wild foodies get their fill. Here's a look at how a handful of cities are responding to the rise of urban foraging. If you play by the rules, where the sidewalk ends could be where your lunch begins.
1. PORTLAND, ORE.
Urban Edibles' free online map lets users check to see if, say, a patch of dandelion greens is on public or private land or if they have permission to pick it. Users can also add new entries, and if they don't know who owns the property, the site's drop-down menu lets them direct others to "Ask before you pick!" The project, which started in 2006, has 680 or so entries. So far, only two homeowners have asked to be removed for privacy reasons.
2. SAN FRANCISCO
Need help foraging in the Bay Area? There are wild-food apps, guided tours, dinners and, for city folk, a wild-food version of a farm share that brings customers a monthly box of foraged items. But DIYers, beware: foraging can be illegal, and eating the wrong thing can kill you. The Bay Area Forager notes that where plants grow matters and cautions against picking near parking lots and roads because the soil might contain a lot of lead or mercury.
3. LOS ANGELES
Mia Wasilevich and Pascal Baudar lead foraging classes throughout the city and teach survivalist skills like how to build traps to catch birds and small animals. (But actually trapping and killing them in L.A. is a "big no-no," says Wasilevich.) They also just launched a wild-foodie site, TransitionalGastronomy.com that includes such dishes as cattail tempura and black-nightshade ketchup. For dessert? Mugwort-ale ice cream.
4. ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.
Last spring, a for-profit venture called Urban Orchards started offering to harvest tree owners' fruit for a nominal $25 fee. Owners get 10% of the resulting jam free of charge. The company plans to donate 5% to a food charity and sell the rest, typically back to the owners, who may or may not choose to pass the preserves off as quasi-homemade gifts. Foods ready for harvesting now: prickly-pear cactus fruit, piñon nuts and apples.
There are 25 pear trees, nine pomegranate trees and hundreds of other entries on Concrete Jungle's free online foraging map, part of a volunteer-run site that says it strives to keep residential foods off the map. The site also warns that uncultivated peaches tend to be "pretty scrawny," prickly pears are "not particularly tasty" and unripe persimmons can cause a medical condition called a bezoar that may "require surgical intervention."
6. NEW YORK CITY
Police and park rangers have been stepping up their patrols of public land and chasing off would-be foragers. Meanwhile, "Wildman" Steve Brill, who has built a career out of his 1986 arrest in Central Park for eating a dandelion (the charges were later dropped), is working on the Droid version of his mobile app, which includes hundreds of photos and recipes. Among those with ingredients currently in season: Juneberry crème pie and black-walnut bisque.