Enough people in New York are foraging for "wild" food in city parks, that the city is taking measures to stop the activity. They're training park rangers and others to be on the lookout for foragers, and "chase them off". It may be a sign of people looking for "local food" (because of the local food movement), or it may be a sign of economic worries and a symptom of peak oil. Whatever the reason, New Yorkers are increasingly fanning out across the city’s parks to hunt and gather edible wild plants, like mushrooms, American ginger and elderberries.
From the perspective of the city parks administration, New York’s public lands are not a communal pantry: "If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we’re not going to have any chipmunks," said Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit group that manages Central Park.
It's not just plants - it's fish, turtles, and other animals.
Foraging in New York parks is not a new thing, and neither is foraging in general. Foraging is, after all, part of our societal heritage in that thousands of years ago, before Civilization corralled us into cities, our ancestors were foragers. But I suppose the thousands of years of civilization has erased foraging as normally acceptable behavior. And really, if a city of millions of people were to turn to the parks for wild grown food, the parks would be stripped of plants in no time.
Today there are several people writing about and leading tours in city parks focused on foraging. There's a lot of edible plants growing unrecognized in parks and vacant lots and along highways and so on. But there are also poisonous plants growing among the edible plants and it takes some training to recognize the safe or unsafe plants. And there are ecologically sound ways to harvest these plants, and it's arguably good for the health of the plants to harvest food from them.
Now, what does this mean? Maybe it's meaning nothing other than the local food movement causing people to become re-interested in plants grown near where they live, and recognizing that city parks have some of those plants. But maybe it means something else.
Many people are saying our society is not sustainable. Whether it's peak oil, or peak copper, or financial distress, etc, many think our society is heading towards a generalized collapse. The remnants of civilization, our neighbors etc, would be left as foragers and the ones who have practical skills like building things or finding safe food, they'll be the ones who survive where others will die in some way.
This may or may not be among the consciously known reasons behind the increase in foragers. It may be buried as an unconscious motivation. The effects I just named are widely recognized, but modern life has so many distractions in it that most don't have time to really think about it between the faux concerns like sports statistics, or the latest fake celebrity fake controversy. Some of my friends are consciously interested in relearning skills like cooking from scratch or recognizing safe foods, and are purposely reskilling themselves, and I expect some of the New York foragers may be similarly concerned as my friends.
Interesting ... In the meantime, here's a few books about foraging and growing food in urban settings.