Years ago there was a tradition in our society of foraging in the wild. It is a tradition we have lost. Beginning with the Enclosure of common lands - and increasingly as food production has become more and more globalised, we have become used to buying all our food from shops and supermarkets. Before the process of Enclosure became widespread, culminating in the 18th and 19th century Acts, local people had the right to forage, cultivate, cut hay, graze their animals, fish and collect timber and turf for fuel from common land. As the fields, meadows and commons were fenced off, many of the poor became dispossessed and people were forced to leave the land. Food that had previously been free became a commodity that had to be bought.
These days there is necessarily an emphasis on local and low carbon food production; but ‘free food’ remains a largely untapped source. A number of communities have started mapping their local foraging opportunities. Following suit, a few of us from the FarmShare food hub have created a map to show fruit and nut bearing trees and bushes (walnuts, sweet chestnuts, rose hips, hazel, elderflowers and berries, sloes, blackberries, damson, plums and apples; and so on). Go here to add any sources you know of on publicly accessible land (please, not private land). And let’s grow the map.
There was a flurry of activity last month when the map was launched. There have been over 1,000 views, and a few trees have been added as people have found their way to the map. People with google accounts can add to it – and for others there is an email address on the map, so information can be sent via that to be added by us.
There have been some great ideas for how this project could be developed. One contributor to the map emailed suggesting trying to get more fruit and nut trees planted around the city; and even creating an orchard garden. Wivenhoe have broadened their foraging map to include fruit and veg, eggs and honey sold at people’s gates.
There are some exciting ‘Abundance’ projects going on up and down the country - including just down the road in Bungay, where, separate from their public map, they keep a database of trees going unharvested on private land and then arrange (with owners’ permission!) harvesting forays, or getting people who want fruit together with other people’s surplus fruit. They also hold produce swap days and feature an Abundance table at most of their events. In Sheffield surplus fruit is redistributed to the community on a non-profit making basis, they have collective juicing days, make jams and preserves; now even manage trees and run workshops on planting and pruning. OrganicLea in London run a ‘Scrumping’ project, and distribute the fruit and juice, pickles and jams that they make from surplus or wild sources of fruit from a market stall and a community café.
These are all ways that we could take our own foraging project here in Norwich.
What do you think? Sarah Gann
Gathered Norwich walnuts and cobnuts, with sloe gin (Sarah Gann); GrowSheffield's first Abundance crop; poster for local Fruit Day; first fruits of the season (Sustainable Bungay).