Urban foragers find fresh produce in city parks, your backyard

Faces of Chicago
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There’s a produce section growing in your backyard, you just need to know where to look. Urban forager Nance Klehm explains in our latest #FacesOfChicago. Here’s her story – in her own words:

Nance Klehm, Urban forager and ecologist

This would be the basics in your food pantry in this park. You have all these healthy medicinal greens. You have chestnuts, you have hazelnuts you have black walnuts. You have big, starchy protein-rich fruit.

These are hawthorn; these are called haws, these are thorns. They’re very common in school plantings and park plantings.

Nance Klehm picks fruit from a hawthorne tree in Douglas Park in Chicago.

I’m from unincorporated Cook County. Moving to the city and feeling lonely in spite of all these people, I started taking long walks along train tracks and I started identifying species cuz I come from a long line of horticulturalists.

You come to the city and people don’t go outside cuz it’s dirty, cuz they get bug bites, because it’s dangerous. I didn’t have any of those. There’s a lot of things that you’ll see in a edge, so I’m looking for unmowed areas. I look at shorelines.

There’s one of my favorite greens, wild spinach. They’re kinda tough, but they still pack a lot of flavor cuz they’ve been building their flavor all year. But our wild plants are almost always superior in their nutrition and have medicinal qualities.

Nance Klehm shows the leaves of a wild spinach plant, also known as lamb’s quarters or goose foot. The leaves are tender in the spring, hardy in the fall and the protein-rich seeds can be hydrated to make them similar to quinoa.

If I’m foraging for the day, I’m just like snacking all day.

I should say that most of these plants that I’m picking no one cares. No one ‘s gonna, you know police aren’t gonna stop me for this. They’re like those are weeds.

I’ve walked through this park, I know there’s 60 some species or more given what time of year. These places aren’t that unique. We humans disturb the land in similar ways and the same plants show up.

These are broad leaf plantains. They’re not related to the kind of plantains you eat. They have a cooling property and an extracting property. I crush them up and immerse them in olive oil to make a salve.

Nance Klehm picks broad leaf plantains, which she said have medicinal uses

I came to the city to work at the Field Museum as an archeologist. In archaeology, I was really interested in ethnobotany and how people use their environment to support their lives.

I do this [now] to connect a place to teach other people to connect to place and connect to health. This is a great way to get a little exercise, get to know your environment and get really healthy food.

Commercially, this is known as gobo and you can get it in a Asian markets. You can get it in Whole Foods and then I’ll take some home. I build my meals around what I’m finding, so I’m not particular.

Nance Klehm shows a burdock or “Gobo” root dug up in a park in Chicago. The root is originally from Asia, and once cleaned can be added to stir frys.

I’m not going after something. These are all things that people have in their backyards. So people come out and they’re using this park anyway to play or to jog. It’s really nice if they know a next dimension of it.

I’ll get approached by people who say, what are you doing or I know what you’re doing. I know what that’s for and they might not even speak English, but they’ll talk about how they use it for stomachache, or they use it for fevers, or it’s really delicious.

It always comes together in a kitchen. This is gonna be delicious. It’s about communing with place.

Nance Klehm cooks up some foraged foods, including wild spinach and Gobo root.

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