#1 Foraging Tool - My Bike
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.