The Challenge


How might we better connect food production and consumption? read the brief


Bush Food

Create community around edible indigenous plants already growing in and around the city.
Building on urban harvesting and the inspiring comments posted, the idea of foraging could be enhanced by emphasizing identifying and educating about native edible species. What they are, where and how to find them and what to do with them once you do. 

The idea is not new. This website about Bush Food ( describes it like this:

"Australian aborigines selected food which was available and ate it for nutritional purposes. There was no refrigeration or storage containers. Local knowledge of which plants were edible, palatable, or delicious, as well as the best time for harvest, harvest and preparation methods, were passed down by word of mouth to the next generation. Some plants or their fruits are less toxic at cetain times.
Aborigines generally did not boil water, so their cooking methods (and hence their menus) were different from those used by the early settlers and modern users. They did not have pots or pans, although northern tribes were known to have used bailer shells. They did not make tea or coffee, nor similar drinks. They did not make jams, jellies, or chutneys, and made little use of flavourings.
Apart from Bunya nuts they only used food from their tribal area and did not trade."

A website and mobile app on urban harvesting could include a section devoted solely to finding, preparing and eating wild local food and the stories behind it. As Kimberly Fisher commented on urban harvesting, it could be open source, allowing people to share their knowledge about all facets of each food, down to images with which to identify things and multimedia stories about their history, current use etc. Curation could help present this info in a clear and visual way.

Local restaurants could feature menu items based on locally foraged food and hand out a mini recipe/plant guide with info about what they used and easy ways for customers to find and use it themselves. The guide might look a little bit like the second image above, and people could collect them at different restaurants and go to the website to find more info, recipes, images, stories, etc. 

The blog Brisbane to Bogota has a great post about the idea:

A few more links:

What do you think?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Paul Fr

May 10, 2011, 11:58AM
I have the fear that your project might create some tension on harvesting fruits from city own area. It is quite likely that a few will try to harvest too much too early. How could we manage this ?

Joanie Tobin

May 11, 2011, 10:41AM
A friend mentioned something similar to me yesterday. His suggestion, based on a talk he went to a few years ago, is to emphasize not only the edible, but things that are edible and invasive. So people harvesting would be helping clear invasive species. But in terms of protecting fruit on city property, what about signs, like those in an arboretum? They could say when picking is allowed, give info about the plant, show the plant on a map, where it fits in to the local ecosystem, etc. Orchards often rope off their unripe fruit sections...that could be unattractive, but maybe it could be done in a way that protects the plants but looks good and features the food. What do you think? There must be more ways to manage demand.

Laci Videmsky

May 06, 2011, 02:04AM
Providing educational material about native edible flora is an excellent concept! If done tactfully, this could have a broader appeal that goes beyond forager & survivalist cultural niches. By exposing the cultural/historical narratives of these plants, such as Peter Del Tredici has done for his region of the world, might allow this concept to speak to wider audience.

Joanie Tobin

May 07, 2011, 20:09PM
Wow, his book looks so awesome! Maybe a good way to broaden the appeal would be to work with local restaurants to distribute some kind of print piece like that in smaller form. They could feature menu items based on locally foraged food and hand out maybe a mini recipe/plant guide with info about what they used and easy ways for customers to find and use it themselves...something kind of like this:
People could collect the cards at different restaurants.
Where did you hear of him? Just saw he worked in the Arboretum, my favorite park in Boston ;)

Laci Videmsky

May 10, 2011, 02:59AM
He taught in my graduate program. Although I never had him as a professor, I had a few chances to see him speak about his work and that book. Many of the stories about the featured plants were absolutely amazing, and often very funny. If I am to make comparisons, his work has the rigor of John McPhee, and humor & accessibility of Michael Pollan.

Joanie Tobin

May 11, 2011, 10:42AM
I'll have to look out for him when I'm home!

Peter Nixon

April 25, 2011, 21:12PM
Sounds ideal for a mobile app, as you said.
This concept would be appealing to a certain type of person. Those who are interested in outdoor survival skills (most teenage boys!) or alternative outdoor sports would respond well to this idea.

Joanie Tobin

April 22, 2011, 14:35PM
You guys bring up a good point, there's a contrast between foraging for little-known foods and harvesting that which would otherwise go to waste. I think there is an appropriate connection, but how to combine the two?

Meena Kadri

April 25, 2011, 18:39PM
Both are about discovery right? Using language/themes across the app/website like "locate, unearth, track, seek, hunt, gather, encounter, experience, sample, share" could help unite both in one basket of bounty.

Joanie Tobin

April 27, 2011, 12:05PM
Yes! Discovery is the common goal. They're both about expanding the way we think about sourcing food and diversifying our nutritional intake and production resources. So maybe the connection could be described as sharing diversity through discovery = sustainability. Or...discovering diversity through sharing = sustainability. Or...discovering sustainability through sharing diversity. Something!

Maia Smith

April 22, 2011, 05:06AM
Great idea! Perhaps there's also a connection to gardens/parks who have fruit trees.

Joanie Tobin

April 22, 2011, 14:23PM
Thanks! There could definitely be a connection. Check out urban harvesting:

Alex Pompe

April 21, 2011, 19:53PM
Great Idea! This reminds me of a really strong movement taking place in areas around mushroom hunting. Imagine the ability to photo document where you found your mushroom (or other bush food) and then pin this to a map. This could be extended to all kinds of bush food, or even something like good fishing spots for example. A map would encourage the use of natural growing foods and could also ensure that too many people aren't picking mushrooms in one spot. You could check the map to make sure that someone hasn't picked there the day before!

Jonatan Wentzel

April 22, 2011, 10:07AM
Wow, Alex, it seems as you have more positive experiences than me from the mushroom hunting. I've heard that people rather would not talk about the mushroom (or other bush food) spots, because they want it for themselves. But maybe this can be done i a way that promotes collaboration and openness?

Joanie Tobin

April 22, 2011, 14:19PM
Hmm hadn't thought of that. Maybe there could be a preservation element? I read something about people over-picking wild ramps, making using them unsustainable. Any ideas for how a community could help preserve local foods while taking advantage of them?

Joanie Tobin

April 22, 2011, 14:29PM
Alex I love the idea of documenting spots! Would make it so much easier to find, and could provide a good record of how much an area produces, maybe giving the community a way to monitor how much people are using to ensure sustainability. I guess there would have to be a shared committment to preserving as well as eating.
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