Rethinking the Role of Foraging in Urban Ecosystem Planning

By Rebecca J. McLain, Patrick T. Hurley, Marla R. Emery, and Melissa R. Poe

Portland, OR (February 6, 2014) – Recent “green” planning initiatives envision food production, including urban agriculture and livestock production, as desirable elements of sustainable cities. Researchers use an integrated urban political ecology and human-plant geographies framework to explore how foraging for “wild” foods in cities, a subversive practice that challenges prevailing views about the roles of humans in urban green spaces, has potential to also support sustainability goals.

Fruit tree gleaningDrawing on research from Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle, researchers show that foraging is a vibrant and ongoing practice among diverse urban residents in the USA.

At the same time, as reflected in regulations, planning practices, and attitudes of conservation practitioners, it is conceptualized as out of place in urban landscapes and an activity to be discouraged.

Researchers discuss how paying attention to urban foraging spaces and practices can strengthen green space planning and summarize opportunities for and challenges associated with including foragers and their concerns.

The empirical research presented from Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle reveals that foraging is one of the complex ways in which urban residents actively relate with plants and fungi found in urban parks and interstitial green spaces. These exploratory studies point to the importance for planners, managers, and scholars to understand urban green spaces as not only providers of services, but also providers of material products.

Embracing foraging as a legitimate use of parks and other green spaces in US cities represents a new challenge for urban green space planners and managers. The evidence from exploratory work in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle suggests that including urban non-timber forest products and foraging practices in green space planning offers multiple opportunities for supporting sustainable urban ecosystem management.

Researchers conclude that urban foraging may contribute positively to social and ecological resilience in the face of broad-scale political ecological change.

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Research Source: Gathering “wild” food in the city: rethinking the role of foraging in urban ecosystem planning and management Local Environment:The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability. 19(2): 220-240.