Had a meeting with one Mr Tony Depalma of the criminal investigations wing of the presidio police department today…and I must say he was very nice. I guess you don’t get yourself stationed in a national park if you’re a hardass. Apparently there was some controversy, and “polarization of parties” drummed up by my flagrant picking of weeds in the presidio. I thought I was helping! I do love to conjure the image of a room full of trustees sitting around a conference table in aeron chairs, blackberries at the ready, copies of SF weekly strewn about with my smiling face on the cover, eyes red from lack of sleep, cold cups of half drunk gen mai cha littering the tasteful sustainable bamboo side table, and the whole time arguing over my choice of salad greens. Probably wasn’t quite like that…might have been earl grey. But I understand their concern. One man picking minors lettuce in hobo gloves and a torn jacket is just a sketchy, but a whole army of said pickers is….well…a revolution! The specter of an army of american apparel clad web designers scuffing their vintage nikes in the methodical hunt for stinging nettle is a welcome one in my mind, but I agree that caring for the natural resources that feed us should be a primary concern . With that said, I’m of two minds on this issue.
On the one hand, I understand the point that you don’t want people picking the place to death. Parks are a resource that we create for the enjoyment of everyone, and what I was doing was essentially poaching. On the other hand, all natural space in america is either private land or public park. So where does that leave someone who wants to eat wild food? When we live in a society where some have so much, and many have so little, what other choice do we have but to poach. Give me another option and I’ll take it, but as of now it doesn’t seem that option exists. If I had more money, and bought land, it would be ok to harvest on, but since I don’t have said $800,000, I’m a criminal. Pretty weak if you ask me.
A second point of contention I have is the view that taking a sprig of lettuce from the public commons is a zero sum game. That any interaction that human beings have with nature is by definition destructive. I think that a renewed interest in wild foods carries with it a renewed stewardship of the land. At the moment the presidio is a place we think of as outside of ourselves. One we enjoy with our eyes, and leave it at that. If we heard that some horrible chemical was going to be sprayed on said park, endangering the wildlife, but safe for humans, we would be upset, for about 5 minutes. Then facebook would come calling, and the issue would be filed away in the “why the world is going to shit” section of our brain. If, on the other hand, we begin to view the presidio as a place that we treasure for the delicious free edibles that abound there, the issue of spraying will be much closer to hearts, and we will, hopefully, foment resistance to protect that resource. I don’t disagree that opening up the park system as a free for all of harvesting is a good idea, but the present situation, where you can be hauled into court for picking a mushroom, with penalties akin to cutting down a redwood, also doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So, to close my rant, I would like to say for the record that I don’t recommend foraging in the presidio. You will get a $500 fine if you get caught, and if too many people do it, it won’t be a very nice place anymore. What we need is to create something new. No longer will we depend on the bureaucrats to craft the rules that we forage by. We need a network of friendly landowners to let us forage (respectfully and sustainably) on their land. This will let us all share in the bounty that is just beyond our doors. Educating and building community, while feeding ourselves healthy fresh food. If you own land, email me, we should talk. All it takes is one. One person to start it off. Together we can grow something truly unique, which will be a model for the planet of how cooperation amongst community can result in the development of something truly great…plus you’ll probably get your name in the paper.