Meet the foragers: Finding food at their feet

"Edible weeds," "forest gardens," and "garden pharmacy" may not be phrases you expect us to throw around in a history museum. But out in our Victory Garden, sipping locally-grown cocktails, that's exactly what Food in the Garden series participants are discussing. Intern Heather Olsen previews this week's event.

The four panelists on our July 25th "Foraging: Finding Food at your Feet" have unique perspectives on how you can make small changes that will have large impacts on your life and environment—and most of their ideas will make you hungry. Matt Cohen, local forager and founder of Matt's Habitats; Holly Poole-Kavana of Little Red Bird Botanicals; Nathan Zeender of WildCraft Sodas; and Lincoln Smith of Forested shared a little more about their personal connections to locally grown foods and foraging.

Name: Matt Cohen

What he does: Matt, owner of Matt's Habitats, acts as a foraging educator on nature hikes and helps people green their yards and reduce their ecological footprint.


Matt Cohen on a recent hike
Matt Cohen on a recent hike

Greening your yard: Greening your yard means incorporating more native plants, creating vegetable gardens, utilizing storm water instead of letting it run off, and ultimately, "[creating] a more dynamic and interactive space." Want to start greening your own yard? Matt recommends an oak tree for the Washington, D.C., area, because all you need is an acorn!

Why he does it: "Twenty years ago I had a change of heart and quit my desk job. One of my goals was to learn how to be more self-sufficient, including how to grow my own food. So I interned on an organic farm. Not only did I learn to grow food, but as other interns and volunteers came through, several introduced me to edible weeds growing in the fields and edible mushrooms growing in the forest. From there, I was hooked!"

Favorite overlooked edible plant?: Wood sorrel. "It's up from April to November, easy to identify, pretty much found anywhere that gets enough sun, and its sour taste is a hit with just about everyone who tries it, especially children."  


A "foragers salad" featuring wood sorrel, red cabbage, cucumber and lettuce by Flickr user arimoore
A "forager's salad" featuring wood sorrel, red cabbage, cucumber and lettuce by Flickr user arimoore via the Creative Common's license

Name: Holly Poole-Kavana

What she does: Holly is the owner of Little Red Bird Botanicals, a company that specializes in herbal medicine and that offers workshops on how to turn a garden into an herbal pharmacy.


Holly
Holly Pooole-Kavana enjoying the outdoors

Why she does it: "I chose to be an herbalist because I love plants. I was fascinated by them as a child and later studied botany in college. People who are drawn toward health and healing work may choose from many effective healing modalities to study and practice. As someone who has always wanted to work with both plants and health, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to study herbal medicine."

Biggest misconception about herbal medicine: Holly says that people don't always realize that herbal medicine isn't as cut and dry as western medicine is. She says that, "Herbalism at its best incorporates the entire story of a person's condition and works with the body to restore health and balance. That means there's not usually an easy answer to the question 'what herb is good for arthritis?' Three different people who are experiencing arthritis in three different ways will get three different answers."

Favorite overlooked plant?: "Dandelion. Most people learn to hate it because it's a stubborn weed that 'ruins' lawns. All parts of the plant are edible— have you ever tried dandelion flower fritters?"


 “I saw dandelion greens for sale at a local grocery store this spring at $4 for a small bunch, even though the plants were growing right outside the front door. The leaves and root are safe, and nourish medicinal tonics.” -Holly  Photo courtesy of Flickr user Farmanac
"I saw dandelion greens for sale at a local grocery store this spring at $4 for a small bunch, even though the plants were growing right outside. The leaves and root are safe, and nourish medicinal tonics.," said Holly. Photo by Flickr user Farmanac via the Creative Commons license

Name: Nathan Zeender

What he does: Nathan is the owner of Right Proper Brewing Company, and recently expanded into the soft-drink market with WildCraft Sodas. He focuses on using organically grown or wildcrafted (ethically harvested uncultivated plants) ingredients in his drinks.

“I guess I’ve always had a bit of a kink for the natural world and the recent birth of my first child has been a kind of catalyst for a more mindful approach to my own actions and choices.”-Nathan Zeender
"I guess I've always had a bit of a kink for the natural world and the recent birth of my first child has been a kind of catalyst for a more mindful approach to my own actions and choices," said Nathan Zeender

Why he does it: "Flavor lights my imagination and I enjoy the creative act of cooking so that was how I first approached brewing…I find the history of all kinds of beverages fascinating, and generally the more archaic the better: from the proto-gins of the early alchemists to the folk beverages of almost every indigenous culture."

Favorite overlooked cooking plant?: "Celery. It's really versatile, you get four different flavor impacts from the hardy outer stalk, tender inner stalk, wonderfully fresh flavored leaves, and the pungent seeds."

 

Name: Lincoln Smith

What he does: Lincoln used to work for a high-end landscape architecture firm, but left to pursue a more eco-friendly career path. He now owns and runs Forested, a company that trains individuals in designing and utilizing forest gardens. 


Lincoln Smith with a homemade Pawpaw custard pie, made from locally grown ingredients.
Lincoln Smith with a Pawpaw custard pie, made from locally grown ingredients.

What is a forest garden?: "A forest garden is an agricultural planting modeled on a natural woodland, but designed to produce food and other products for people."

Why he does it: "In trying to push for maximum ecological function on projects, I came to realize the biggest impact most people make on the world's ecosystems is through the food we eat. The world's corn and wheat fields do not function as ecosystems, and agriculture now occupies 38% of the world's land. I became intrigued with the question of whether we can eat from lands that function as ecosystems."

Best plant for your money: "Black Raspberries and other cane fruits are cheap to buy, produce well and divide easily."

Tickets are still available for the next Food in the Garden event on Thursday, August 1, which is titled, "Grow Now: Local Growers Spill the Beans." Food in the Garden is made possible through the generous support of DuPont Pioneer and The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. The programs are presented by the Museum's American Food History Project and Smithsonian Gardens.

Heather Olsen is a social media intern in the New Media Department. Learn more about internships at the museum here.

Posted at 4:57 pm EDT in Back to Our Roots,Food History

Related Blog Posts

Young female intern with the remnants of a crab feast, including containers of butter, napkins, crabs, in an outdoor setting
"If you can't eat that, then you ain't hungry!" These are the words I heard from my internship supervisor (in a Maryland accent, mind you)...
Empty bakery, black and white photo, with bread and bread slicing machines
The "home of sliced bread" welcomes its bread-slicing machine back, thanks to a loan from our museum. Development intern Christina Ross...
This September, we join Smithsonian Gardens in hosting our annual FOOD in the Garden series. We'll explore four maritime regions impacted...