Wild Harvest

wild-harvest
Photo by Lentil Purbrick/Grown & Gathered

Five modern-day hunter-gatherers share their passion for eating from the wild

ELKA MOSESHVILI

Eka is an urban forager. She wants to show people how they can maintain a normal lifestyle with a nine-to-five job and still lead a secret life as a forager.

elka
Photo by Maude Farrugia

Can you describe the foods you harvest from the ‘wild’ and how you do it?

I am lucky to live in Melbourne’s northern suburbs (aka the European fruit forest), and I mainly forage for fruit as it’s an easy and ubiquitous target. I follow the ‘if it’s facing the footpath it’s yours’ rule: as a tree grower myself, I expect anything facing the street to be picked. In summer/autumn most of my fruit was supplied by the neighbourhood: figs, prickly pears, mulberries, grapes, apples, pears and lemons. Another good rule is to ask the grower. Usually people are happy to share.

What inspired you to start harvesting your food in this way?

I grew up in Europe, where I spent summers at my grandparents’ place climbing my favourite mulberry tree, or waiting for the first perfect fig to ripen. There were also many mushroom/ berry picking trips, regular ‘foraging’ for raspberries from neighbours, and helping my grandparents with the harvest in autumn. Your childhood experiences shape your life, and it’s up to you to choose how. I chose to be a forager.

What do you love most about foraging?

The creativity and learning opportunities. I spent the whole summer trying out different recipes and smoothie combinations. I also got into fermenting, which I feel is a natural extension of foraging and oversupply. My next steps are to learn the arts of pruning and grafting, to preserve my favourite trees and to get into local communities for swaps and harvests.

What differences have you noticed between foraged produce compared with other sources?

Once you taste real food it’s hard to go back to commercially grown produce. Most of the time it tastes so much better, although sometimes it is an acquired taste. Sometimes you can accidentally discover a hidden or forgotten treasure – a rare specimen that is not commercially grown and difficult to find in the nurseries. You can step into a completely different world of gastronomy.

What positive impacts would there be if more people started to forage?

People could understand ingredients better if they could recognize the tree that the produce has come from.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start foraging?

Be observant and experimental: talk to people. If you’re not sure what something is, just take a photo or collect a sample and ask around. To find the best foraging routes: take the roads less travelled, the front yards in the back streets; old laneways full of forgotten treasures; and go to the hidden corners of the parks.

If you have abundance, ferment it or make a jam. And please never be greedy – don’t take something that you don’t like just because it’s free! The birds will have it eventually (further spreading the seeds).

For more information see Feral Fruit Trees Melbourne at www.feralfruitmelbourne.wordpress.com

MEG ULMAN

Meg is one-fifth of the collective Artist as Family. She lives on an around 1000 m2 (‘quarter-acre’) permaculture plot near Daylesford, central Victoria. About eighty percent of what she consumes comes from Victoria, with the rest from New South Wales and South Australia. She buys only a few things from overseas: tea, spices, miso and tamari.

meg
Photo by Patrick Jones

Can you describe which foods you forage and how you do it?

My family and I regularly eat about thirty autonomously growing plants from our garden and neighbourhood. We walk and cycle everywhere, and so are in constant contact with what we call our ‘foraging commons’. I always carry a bag and pocketknife with me. We eat foraged plants raw, cooked, fermented (for preservation, and to increase the bioavailability of their minerals), dried for tea, and blended in tinctures and salves. We also snare rabbits, eat roadkill, catch fish and kill our own poultry.

What inspired you to start foraging your food this way?

I grew up in suburban Melbourne with fruit trees and a modest vegie patch, and my favourite after-school snack was sourgrass Oxalis stricta. When I discovered permaculture I attended an edible-weed walk. I had already been eating dandelion, sorrel, wild rocket and fennel, but I had to do the walk twice to differentiate between what I was seeing. Could you really eat all these plants?

What do you love most about foraging for food like this?

When I see my three-year-old picking flowers and leaves to eat, and identifying various mushrooms, I feel a strong sense of optimism. He is learning about his place within his local biosphere, and he will always know how to feed himself. We forage because it makes sense to us to eat free food that doesn’t require sowing, watering, tending, refrigerating, packaging or transporting.

What differences have you noticed between wild-harvested produce compared with other sources?

When we eat produce that is self-sown and tenacious, we embody the essence of what we consume and the environment which has provided it. We avoid eating sick animals, soggy greens, or fruit that’s over-ripe, as they don’t feel vital. If we eat freshly picked, organic lettuce, it is more nutrient-dense than lettuce grown in a monoculture, that is sprayed, packaged in plastic, transported and refrigerated in a supermarket for several days.

What positive impacts would there be if more people started to forage?

When I started foraging I began to understand my place within the local environment more intimately, and the importance of living a low-impact life. If more people started foraging, I’m certain that they would feel a deeper sense of connection to the natural world around them.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start foraging?

Go with a foraging friend, or take a guided weed walk, so you can learn the ins and outs of foraging. There are many good books out there too: make sure you know what you’re eating.

ADRIAN IODICE

Adrian came from an Italian family and grew up in Melbourne. He was introduced to harvesting and hunting wild food at a very young age. He now lives with his wife and three kids, in a semi self-sustainable lifestyle on a shared property in the Bega Valley of southern New South Wales.

adrian
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Can you describe which foods you harvest from the wild and how you do it?

For many years I hunted rabbits, feral goats and feral pigs with firearms, but for the past ten years or so I have mainly harvested feral deer with a bow and arrow.

What inspired you to start harvesting your food this way?

The first time I went hunting was with my best friend, his father and his grandfather. We harvested rabbits that day and I was hooked.

What do you love most about hunting?

Shooting with a firearm is just that, ‘shooting’; but put a bow in my hands and all my senses spring to life. While I’m in the forest all my senses are completely focused: my hearing, smell, eyesight and even my touch. I slow right down, almost into a meditation. I feel a connection to the earth, the forest and to the animal.

What differences have you noticed between produce you’ve hunted and other sources?

I know game is fresh and healthy, with no drenching or antibiotics, just juicy lean meat. And there is an unbeatable satisfaction when I feed my family with something that I’ve harvested. The gratitude I have for the animal I’m eating is humbling, and the life force and sustenance we get from that animal is overwhelming. You just don’t get that from a plastic wrapped piece of meat.

What positive impacts would there be if more people started to hunt?

All animals I hunt are species that were introduced into the Australian environment. If more people got out there and hunted for meat it would help manage the feral animal populations in this country significantly, and avoid the suffering of animals taking poison baits. All this food could feed communities!

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start hunting?

If you are considering hunting for meat and you don’t know where to start, join a hunting club; most of them have field days where they teach you how to dress an animal, track deer and all sorts of important things. Or if you know someone who hunts, ask them to take you along with them.

Hunting is a regulated activity in most of Australia, and the licence or permission you require depends on a range of things such as the jurisdiction, weapon, type of animal (e.g. feral), land tenure (e.g. private or public) and purpose.

To be successful when hunting, you have to really know the animal you hunt. Read about their habits, what they eat, the type of country they prefer to live in, and get out there and study them.

JORDAN GOETZE

Jordan is a marine ecologist at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. He likes to catch and eat the things he studies, so he’s been trying to come up with ways to limit the impact he has when fishing wild-caught seafood.

jordan
Photo by Laurie Benson

Can you describe which foods you harvest from the wild and how you do it?

I love catching and eating all types of seafood, from cockles foraged from the seashore to deep sea fish. I use a wide range of techniques and tools, from a standard fishing rod to specially designed cockle sieves, catching crabs by hand, Swan River prawns with butterfly net and lobster with ‘cray loop’, and spearfishing.

What inspired you to start harvesting your food from the wild?

My dad has always been a mad keen fisher, and he’s been diving and spearing along the south coast of WA for most of his life; and I seem to have followed in his footsteps. Dad also inspired me to pursue a career in marine science. I believe that there is a compromise achievable between fishing and conservation, that can ensure kids of the future can go out and catch a nice feed of seafood.

What do you love most about fishing?

I love cooking and experimenting with the wide range of seafood available along the WA coastline. In Australia we are extremely fussy, and limit ourselves to consuming a few species that are often the most vulnerable to overfishing. Because of this, I’ve started to work with my friend Paul Iskov of Fervor [Australian pop-up dining, see www.fervor.com.au] to come up with recipes that use a broader range of seafood, and make better use of the waste products that are just as delicious if cooked the right way.

What differences have you noticed between wild seafood compared with other sources?

Consuming wildcaught seafood – while it’s fresh rather than frozen – is definitely the best way to go if you want to get the most flavour. Seventy-two per cent of the seafood consumed in Australia is imported. Yet Australian commercial fishers are throwing back perfectly good wildcaught seafood, which doesn’t have a market because people aren’t familiar with the species or don’t know how to cook them properly.

What positive impacts would there be if more people started to fish from the wild?

If we start to consume a broader range of species, and use the waste products from the seafood we are already catching, it will take pressure off the more vulnerable species that are fished heavily.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start sustainable fishing?

Go to the Department of Fisheries website and follow guidelines on bag limits and size limits when fishing, and be adventurous. Don’t throw something back just because a fishing guide gives it one or two stars. Try a few different things and prepare them in different ways. Finally, try to use all parts of the fish and cook things whole where possible.

ROHAN ANDERSON

Rohan eats fresh produce, avoids processed foods, grows his own food, hunts for wild meat and lives within his means. In his early thirties, his diet of processed food and no fresh produce was causing major health problems. He knew he had to change. Now his body has repaired, mentally he feels better and he’s broken out of the system that controlled him.

rohan
Photo by Rohan Anderson

Can you describe which foods you harvest from the wild and how you do it?

When the summer ends and rain arrives, the kids and I get excited about visiting the forests; about campfire cooking and long adventurous hikes carrying baskets of mushrooms. In autumn, we pick wild pears from secret trees, and vibrant fruit from the prickly pear. By winter, the larder is well stocked to get us through the lean times. As the warmer weather arrives, with it comes fragrant elderflower, and by springtime there is barely a need to forage when there is so much food growing in the garden. In summer, we pick weeds and from wild fruit trees. At the height of summer, we pluck yabbies from damns and blackberries from tawny bushes. Nearing the end of summer, wild figs provide a sweet treat, and so the cycle continues.

What inspired you to start harvesting your food from the wild?

I was introduced to wild food as a child growing up on a farm in the bush. As an adult I forgot about my childhood ways, but the more unhappy I became with my city life, the more I longed for the simplicity of country living. I started off simply, learning a few new mushroom species. As the years passed, new items would arrive on the picking list. My relationship with nature nudged me to return to my old ways, and has improved my view of my new world.

What positive impacts would there be if more people started to forage from the wild?

It doesn’t make sense for people in urban areas to drive long distances to forage in the wild. There are wild foods in urban areas and backyards that are currently going to waste. Hunting for wild tucker helps you to develop a better understanding of how nature works, and the effects of water, climate and pollution; this can influence more positive decisions in your life.

What do you think of the current food system?

Once you discover how much environmental degradation comes from the way big companies produce, package and transport food, you realise the whole system makes no sense. We are seeing the decline of health as a result of heavily processed foods; but instead of limiting these foods we are medicating the symptoms.

What do you think needs to be done to improve it?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do share my story in the hope that it might get people thinking about food and its impacts. In an ideal world, I’d like to see people embracing a seasonal menu for home cooking that has nutritional value and is lighter on our natural resources.

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