Foraging in New Zealand: How to find free fruit in your city
As dust settles on The Great Avocado Shortage of 2016 and we encounter skyrocketing banana prices, smart and sustainable eating has never been more relevant.
Instead of throwing your weekly pay check at out-of-season, imported food, there are better ways to get your five-a-day for next to nothing: utilising seasonal and natural urban food sources.
When mentioning the act of foraging most people would immediately think of riffling through a bin behind the supermarket.
While dumpster diving is a perfectly sustainable and rewarding way of putting groceries on the table, there's a process that will prove more fashionable with the greater population and avoid you being ankle deep in expired cottage cheese.
In the first instance, renowned forager Peter Langlands suggests people go out themselves and identify plants; with over 2500 varieties of foraged foods in New Zealand you're never shy of something edible.
For a more targeted expedition, several region specific forage maps can be found online. The crowd-sourced documents collate information about where you can do a complimentary produce shop from overhanging trees, public parks, overloaded crops, and community gardens; where a bounty of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs are up for grabs and ripe for the picking. Better yet, anyone can moderate listings and support dialogue around the relationship between food and the environment.
There's no shortage of overloaded crops in the country.
In the past year, charitable organisation Community Fruit Harvesting received donations of nearly 27000kg of fruit and a whopping 9000 pumpkins. But before grabbing your apple-picking tote and going bush there are some general rules of thumb you should respect. Get permission before foraging on someone else's property, only forage as much as you need, avoid areas treated with chemicals, get to know poisonous plants, and if in doubt, definitely don't eat it.
Pulling up The New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map on the nation's biggest city you're immediately struck with a vibrant wash of colours, representing a large variety of fruit, vegetables and native herbs. The crowd-sourced map comes with information about the location, harvest time for public crops and anything else you should know.
In Central Auckland the map gives wind to everything from a chestnut tree in Beachlands to manuka trees in Newmarket and an attractive macadamia crop found in a driveway opposite the Mt Albert shops. Treasures like this one naturally come with guidelines. Foragers are requested to ask the owner for permission before helping themselves. Be reasonable with your takings so stocks don't get depleted. Leave the commercial grade harvesting equipment at home.
West Auckland has its own dedicated service and there are around 70 listed options on the Food Foraging West Auckland map. The resource showcases where to find everything from persimmons, loquats, lemons, wild fennel and apples.
Food foraging and is alive and well in The (Edible) Garden City - from secretive porcini hunting to the North Canterbury Foragers Dinner, sustainable living radio show RD Food and Forage, and local collective Plant Gang who initiate environmental gestures around the city and occasionally provide tips on how to use unconventional edibles.
In the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority catalogued about 30,000 trees and shrubs in the red zone, with around 1800 of those fruit and nut trees. The map is colour-coded to showcase the region's payload of around 500 apple trees, 340 peach trees and 246 feijoa trees.
The Otatutahi Urban Foraging community also allows foragers to show off their finds and share information about both thriving and dried up spots.
Wild Capture, the website of wild food advocate Peter Langlands is also a valuable source of information for the urban forager. Langlands has published several digital guides about foraging opportunities in North Canterbury and Banks Peninsula as well as often overlooked opportunities on the shoreline. He also runs foraging tours by request and is currently working on a large scale wild food database.
As well as healthy number of tips on The New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map, the capital has its own crowd-sourced map giving insight into the best spots to harvest free-range fruit, vegetables and herbs. The offerings on Edible Wellington: A Gatherers Guide are vast and include everything from blackberry bushes in Wadestown to an apricot tree in Lyall Bay and unconventional options like edible nasturtium flowers and sea spinach.
The Local Wild Food Challenge was founded in Wellington and now takes place in five countries. The competition invites hunter-gatherers to showcase the resourcefulness and versatility of urban food sources, as well as shine a light on the country's best chefs.
While resources for the Otago region are thin - excluding the New Zealand Food and Fruit Share Map - the Otago Peninsula is touted as one of the top five foraging spots in the country. The wealth of edible species comes down to the area's diversity of introduced and native trees. Think a mixture of shellfish and watercress to distinct native plants like horopito and kawakawa.
The region's vibrant coastline also opens up foraging to an abundance of edible seaweeds. Among the 900 species of seaweed in New Zealand there are around 10 main edible varieties, including: wakame, karengo, sea lettuce, bull kelp which can easily be made into kelp chips and bladder kelp which can be harvested year round.
The best way to keep up to date is to keep an ear to social media and walk around your local environment familiarising yourself with plants.
Do you know of any foraging sites in your area? Share them in the comments section below.