#1 Foraging Tool - My Bike

If you were to ask me what my number one foraging tool is, I wouldn't tell you it was my pocket knife, or my shovel, or my leather gloves. The hands-down no-contest best foraging tool in my arsenal is my bike. It gives me speed, and options, and range. It makes my legs a mile long.

As an example, there are several good patches of asparagus in the fields behind my house. If I go to collect them on foot, it takes me over 45 minutes. But if I head out on my bike, I can collect from all of the little patches, and be back home in 15 minutes. I can use that extra half hour to forage for more food, or, you know, have a life.

If I'm exploring a new area or trail, even cranking at a low speed, I can cover 4 times the distance that I could on foot. This allows me to get off the beaten path, and gives me greater access in foraging. It allows me to be an explorer.

One of the greatest advantages being a cyclist gives me as a forager is that I'm very much in tune with the seasons. Because I'm out pedaling most every day of the year, I'm acutely aware of the ways in which the weather is changing, which bugs are emerging, and which plants are popping out of the ground, which are flowering, which are fading. I can also see which urban areas are being managed (sprayed and mowed, etc, which are always a bad sign for food). This is a very important asset for people who forage in the city, because extra care must be taken to avoid contamination from herbicides, fertilizers, and pollution.

Another big plus that I have as cycling forager is that I get to scout for certain plants out of season, when they are more visible. For example, right now in late fall, all of the asparagus plants are a bushy splash of yellow in a sea of brown. This makes it very easy to spot previously unknown patches. In the spring, I could see the yellow flowers of golden currant bushes everywhere, which gave me clues as to where to look for ripe fruit in late summer, when the same areas were a mass of green.

Now, it's true that when I'm loaded up with my foraging equipment, I tend to look a bit like a circus on wheels. Just the other day, on a major hunt, I was loaded up with my fruit picker, both panniers, and a large back pack. It made for an awkward ride, especially after I had managed to pick 40-50 pounds of fruit. I had the impression I looked rather like a witch on a broomstick with that fruit picker hanging off the back of my bike (which really made me wish that I owned a cape). There was another ride one day in late summer where I had all of my bags, plus a few 6' long evening primrose plants tucked into my rack, plus my cat in a backpack on my back, plus my pockets loaded with wild plums, munching them as a snack as I rode along. Stand clear, people, the freak show is rolling into town!

But here's the fun thing that I've discovered after covering a lot of mile with my bike - there is food everywhere - in nooks, and crannies, and pockets, and parks - in yards, and fields, and growing out of cracks in sidewalks. I've lived in a suburban setting for quite a while. I knew that I could rely upon spring asparagus, and that there were apple trees scattered around. But I really had no clue as to just how much other food was in the same setting. There are leafy greens, flowers, pollens, roots, shoots, nuts, seeds, and more fruit than I had ever imagined. It's like a wonderland of food, and has shown me what it really means to eat seasonally and locally.

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted about finding pears? Well, I discovered those on a sidewalk on a bike ride to the grocery store. There they were, out for everyone to see. I wonder how many times I, too, saw those pears and dismissed them.

Ok, so you're worried about how you'll look? Don't sweat it. Release images of Lance and the Schleck brothers, or any notion that you have to be ultra fit or a racer to be out on your bike. Tap in to the memories you have of riding your bike as a kid, when two wheels meant freedom and joy. Bike riding is fun, and as a forager, you can really use it to your advantage.

And don't worry about people bothering you while you are harvesting food (always, always forage respectfully and in keeping with your local laws). For the most part, people won't bug you because they think you're bonkers. No, really, they'll give you the should I call for a straight jacket look. I just give them an extra loud and chirpy hello, which usually sends them scurrying away in fear. Isn't it odd that we live in a culture where you are considered crazy if you pick your own food, but you are perfectly sane if in midwinter you buy strawberries flown in from another continent for your smoothies?

The other day, my friend Christy asked how I ever get anywhere on my bike, when I'm constantly stopping to dig. And that's just the thing. There are no longer separate cycling and foraging trips, they have happily melded to become one and the same. It's all a part of exploring and experiencing my home environment, part fun, part utility, part freedom, all done in the spirit of exploration. It has given me a greater sense of connection to my place and my time, and helped me to understand my place in it all. Yep, that big, life-changing revelation really did come to me while riding my bike around and picking weeds.

If you'd like to see more about all of the amazing foods I've foraged this year, check out this page.

I'm sharing this post with the wonderful Hearth and Soul hop, Real Food Deals, and Real Food Wednesday.


  1. Dude, yeah, that whole 'covering four times the distance' thing is sounding mighty attractive right now. I walk for miles and miles and miles looking for herbs :). In fact I found a patch of feral lemon balm.... a 2 hour drive, and then a 2 hour walk away.

    Do you stay on trails, or blaze your own?

    And it's ok. I look like a freak show too, scurrying around in the bushes with my cat hat on and a knife and hori hori hanging off my belt. People tend to avoid me too :).

  2. Great post!! Why do we always need our cars anyways? I just need to get better at those hills....

  3. congratulations for your blog

    hello greetings from Italy I care a blog on tourism in Tuscany know?

  4. Rebecca - Cat hat and a hori hori, I can't imagine why you scare people =)

    If you're really thinking about foraging via bike, and you have the room, then you might want to scour garage sales for a mountain bike. Much easier to have two than to change tires every time you want to ride.

    Depends on where I am, whether I blaze trails or not. If I'm in a habitat where bike tires would do serious damage, I chain my bike to a tree and walk around off trail. But out on the plains, I often buzz around the fields on my bike (beware goats heads, guaranteed no flat tubes don't stand a chance).

  5. I really enjoyed your adventure. My Sweetie and I have bikes that we ride up to the village and sometimes we fill our basket with nuts from the trees. Thank you for your post and happy trails!

  6. I think it would be cool for you to put together a beginners foraging "kit" like what someone should have with them to take on these trips. I know your foraging "habit" developed organically, but it really is exciting and scary at the same time. HOW do you know what is food? What tools do you need to harvest them? What types of equipment do you need on your bike? I know first off I have to get a durned bike lock and a basket! I might ask for those for christmas! Very cool article! You and your bike are ONNNEEEE! Thanks for hosting and posting as always on the hearth and soul hop! :) hugs! Alex

  7. Awesome Post! I'm your newest foower from the hop. Please follow me back at Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  8. I love the image of you riding with your fruit picker! LOL! This is a wonderful post. It is so true that you need to be out there to notice what is available to you!

  9. I am amazed at the food that you find, what a great way to eat and exercise as well! Hey wait, isn't it suppose to be that way? Thanks butter for the info and encouragement to go and do and find.

  10. What an excellent post - great tips and inspiration to get outside and get closer to nature - and find some delicious treats too!

  11. Wow that is a great post! Love your photos too. I had a bike accident years ago and am just now getting back into using a bike again. This helps to inspire me to do so. Definitely twittering this post!

  12. I love your comment about how people run the other way in fear. My brother foraged for me and my family -- and his too this year. We asked folks who had fruit trees for the fruit from their trees, and also he found locally all kinds of things.. billberries, chokecherries (20 gal!), crabapples, tons of fresh pears, some apricots, some plums, wonderful apples! I canned, froze, dried and preserved all summer!It's been fantastic.. I just hope that more people see me as a freak and run the other way -- just means more for me!

  13. Oh Butter. You have me smiling so hard that tears are dotting my eyelashes. I can just picture you and your cycling freakshow riding by...I love it! And LMAO...you had your cat in your backpack, too!? Makes me think of Dr. Parnassus (have u seen it?). I love your spirit and continue to be inspired by you. Beautiful post...thanks for being such a wonderful hearth and soul hop hostess :D

  14. Alex - Great idea!

    Melynda - I don't believe in exercise. I believe in leading an active and fun life. Some would argue that this is the same thing, but I strongly disagree.

    HellaD - I had an accident a while back, too. The hardest part was getting back on my bike. I still have some fear, but I think that's natural.

    Laura - What a haul! I've gotta agree with you, though, I'm not so upset that people think I'm crazy, because I'm very selfish about my food :)

  15. Wow, thanks for this post, and thanks for your blog! I've sat here and read it for hours straight, reading all about foraging. I've foraged for fruit before, but you inspired me to look for edible veggies as well! Thanks to you, I learned all about mallow and went on 2 foraging expeditions where I got a whole bunch of mallow and went exploring with my kids. I also picked some milk nettle that I ate tonight for supper- delicious!
    I have a post over at my blog that I wrote today, and I talked about you as my inspiration to forage some more. Thanks for teaching so much, and I can't wait to read even more!

  16. Penny - You made my day :) I was the same way, grew up picking fruit and few other basic things, but never really knew/understood just how much food was out there. It's a passion of mine, fits so well into my lifestyle, and it's also just plain fun. It gives me great pleasure to share that, and to know that others are enjoy it, too.

  17. First - thanks for the shout out - I remember asking you that question and your answer gave me pause to think about it. Am I so programmed that "getting somewhere" is the only important thing, and the journey is just to be endured and has little value of its own? Wow, I really have forgotten the importance of the journey itself and all the wonderful things it provides. I mean this metaphorically and in reality. You have given me much to meditate on my friend. Oh, and I would love to see you on your bike in full gear - with your cat on your back!!!

  18. just wanted to let you know theres one more bicyclists out there picking forgotten fruit and forage...thanks for all the information on the roadkill laws and butchering

  19. Jessica - If there's a chance you are in my area and would like to ride/forage together sometime, email me. My addy is directly under my "about me."

  20. Wow! Butterpoweredbike! You are just so great! I loved the descriptions of your looks on bike :)
    And you are so lucky that you can do foraging! We live in Frankfurt and there is lots of industry everywhere. All the fields and forest grounds around belong to somebody. Even if it is park people never collect there anything and they will tell you to stop doing that because it's forbidden. So, you have to pass those cherry trees and elderberries, raspberries because they grow in the park. We have to drive about 2 hours by car to some big forests... not as easy to forage for edibles as in your region (((

  21. EWM - I can't imagine how that must feel, having to pass by such delicious treats! Even in the city where I live, I'm able to get lots of nice food from yards, parks, and ditches.


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