Book Review: The Family That Forages Together Stays Together

When I picked up this book, I was looking for practical information on foraging for food in an urban environment.

I like to garden and (frankly) would prefer to live in the country on a little hobby farm, but I work in IT Security, so my job keeps me city-bound. Identifying and using wild plants is something I’ve had a long-standing interest in, but was never able to pursue, so I started poking around different blogs and forums, looking for information on plant-identification classes and nature hikes. That was when I stumbled across this book.

The family lives in a suburban environment. Midwestern cities tend to look very suburban, even in the inner city – this is not universal, of course, but as a general rule, we have a lot more green space than people in much more densely populated areas (particularly along the coasts). Therefore, this book describes a living situation that is very close to my own.

If you are living in the inner city (a truly urban environment) you will probably find this book equal parts interesting, entertaining and not-entirely-useful.

The book is filled with hands-on practical advice, but the facts are provided through the medium of the journey of discovery this family experienced during a year of living off of what they could forage. Every family member had been involved in learning these skills – and they clearly had a wonderful time playing outside together as they pursued this interest. So, the decision to attempt living off of their foraging for an entire year was a natural and logical progression of this pursuit.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fascinating and eye-opening from the perspective of what is possible, even within a suburban (or urban) environment. There are several points where they decide to collect apples, berries or rose hips off of public land (e.g.: the decorative bushes planted in the medium in the middle of a road or an apple tree in a public park) and find themselves asking – or being asked – if that was even allowed. Of course, the next question was always – who’s going to stop us? After all, there aren’t any official apple-protecting-police-officers assigned to the park.

There are also a lot of really good tips and commentary on raising a family. The beneficial aspects to simply setting a goal and pursuing it together, as a family and as a team, are beautifully illustrated by this book.

It’s an excellent read. I strongly recommend taking a look.

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Browsing Nature’s Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Wendy Brown and Eric Brown

Coyotes and a Wild State of Mind

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Amazon.com

That coyotes eat rats is a big fat plus for them as far as humans are concerned (while we rarely see coyotes, we might notice the uptick in rat populations if they were gone)…There is something else coyotes add to the urban landscape. Something intangible, and unquantifiable, and difficult to put into words. They bring something that we modern humans both lack and need, that we both avoid and long for. They bring wildness. Wildness comes naturally to undomesticated animals, but for humans, the concept is more complex

The coyote, on light feet, traverses our urban-wild boundaries, challenging our preconceived ideas of both. The presence of the coyote reminds us that our connection to wildness, within and without, is worth our daily remembering. And that even if we forget, it’s still there.

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

From the introduction:

My intent was not to be all-inclusive, but rather to treat species that are common in most urban places and those that have a particular lesson for coexisting with wildlife that can be extrapolated to other species, including the many that are not directly considered here...nearly everyone reading this book will be able to say, “I wish she’d written about __________.” But my goal, my dream, actually, is that this is just the start of a huge, earthen bestiary, an invitation to wild intimacy, written daily by all of us, through attention to the creatures in our midst.

Understanding Leads to Coexisting

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Amazon.com

“The more we understand the wild animals that share our home places, the better we can coexist in safety, wisdom, conviviality, and delight.”

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

From the introduction:

My intent was not to be all-inclusive, but rather to treat species that are common in most urban places and those that have a particular lesson for coexisting with wildlife that can be extrapolated to other species, including the many that are not directly considered here...nearly everyone reading this book will be able to say, “I wish she’d written about __________.” But my goal, my dream, actually, is that this is just the start of a huge, earthen bestiary, an invitation to wild intimacy, written daily by all of us, through attention to the creatures in our midst.

Part of the Wild, Yet Not

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Amazon.com

Humans are not observers of an untouched beauty; we are present, involved, touched and touching, in a journey of reconnection between daily life and wilder earth.

In general, though most of us enjoy the idea that “the wild” somehow surrounds our neighborhoods, we tend to like our urban wildlife somewhat smaller, more predictable, and less carnivorous. We prefer that it have smaller teeth, or none at all. We have deliberately built orderly perimeters of physical and cultural civilization from which we can delight comfortably in the ideas of wilderness and wildness.

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

From the introduction:

My intent was not to be all-inclusive, but rather to treat species that are common in most urban places and those that have a particular lesson for coexisting with wildlife that can be extrapolated to other species, including the many that are not directly considered here...nearly everyone reading this book will be able to say, “I wish she’d written about __________.” But my goal, my dream, actually, is that this is just the start of a huge, earthen bestiary, an invitation to wild intimacy, written daily by all of us, through attention to the creatures in our midst.

Unsettlingly Wild

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Amazon.com

“But a few of these animals are unsettlingly wild: Coyotes. Even bears and cougars. Seeing them, we have conflicting thoughts rush through our heads…We want to run toward them. We want to run the other way. We notify the media. We protect our cats and shield our children. We hope that they thrive. We wish they would leave…And when they do leave, we crane our necks for the last glimpse of fur, tail, paw.

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

From the introduction:

My intent was not to be all-inclusive, but rather to treat species that are common in most urban places and those that have a particular lesson for coexisting with wildlife that can be extrapolated to other species, including the many that are not directly considered here...nearly everyone reading this book will be able to say, “I wish she’d written about __________.” But my goal, my dream, actually, is that this is just the start of a huge, earthen bestiary, an invitation to wild intimacy, written daily by all of us, through attention to the creatures in our midst.

City Rats, Barn Owls and Giant Eyes

During my travels I have utilized hundreds of trains, subways, buses and other forms of mass transportation. I have also gazed upward (tourist-image-be-damned) to take in hundreds (thousands?) of buildings. In every city, as well as more than a few suburbs or towns, I have found myself looking at evidence of the human futility known as rat and pigeon protection. Most of the time these consist of sharp spikes sticking out of building ledges, like the giant fangs of a vicious thorn bearing plant; or metal coverings placed over possible entry points. While it is obvious that none of these things work, the most perplexing among the most frequently recurring options is the giant eye.

Imagine a large beach ball hanging from a ceiling and decorated to look like a brown target with the darkest circle in the very center. It has a vague resemblance to an eye and it is meant to scare away pigeons by imitating the appearance of a bird of prey during an attack. I have yet to see a giant eye that was not covered in pigeon poop or acting as a perch for several pigeons and other random birds.

I really started to think about the giant eye while in the Philadelphia 30th street train station. I was fidgeting away the minutes, waiting for a commuter train, when I glanced up and noticed the poop-covered eye hanging from the ceiling and could not help but wonder how many generations of pigeons had come and gone without ever once encountering a bird of prey – ANY bird of prey. How can you expect a scare tactic to work when the instincts the fear is based in are so far removed from the animal’s reality that they have (literally) been forgotten?

When I ran across this article in Modern Farmer, I immediately thought about the giant eye and all of the pigeons, rats, bugs and heaven-only-knows what else simply waiting to be feasted upon by the first predator with both opportunity and a realistic chance of surviving in the midst of human-only habitation.

Of course, barn owls are interested in rats, not pigeons, but the train stations and subways have plenty of those. It would be an interesting challenge to create a realistic living space that provided the owls a safe place to live, free access to wild food sources and protection from oncoming traffic – including airplanes, trains, trolleys, buses, trucks and cars. I don’t know if it’s possible or practical, but it would be far more effective than the giant eye.

Quotes:

“Unlike other owl species, like great-horned owl or barred owl, barn owls have a heavy preference for rats and mice. And while they might be adorable, they are also natural killers…One barn owl can cover over a mile and will eat between three and six mice each night, approximately 2,000 mice yearly. A family, including chicks, in one nest box, can devour 8,000 mice in one year.”

“So how to get owls to take up residence on your property? Barn owls want homes that are cozy, warm and safe. Many live in rafters, tree cavities and in barns because they do not build nests. This gives farmers the opportunity to provide a home and enable owls to hunt rodents in fields, improving crop production, yield and profit.”

How to Build a Barn Owl Nest, Modern Farmer, by By