Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2016 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Gathering Baltimore’s Bounty: Characterizations of Urban Foraging Behaviors, Motivations, and Barriers
Kim, Brent
Co-Authors: Colleen M. Synk, Ginny Rogers, Jamie Harding, Charles A. Davis, Marla R. Emery, Patrick T. Hurley, Keeve E. Nachman

Abstract: Practiced by an estimated one-sixth of the population, foraging is the collection of plants or fungi not deliberately cultivated for human use. As a component of urban food systems, foraging may promote cardiovascular health (via physical activity), mental health (via contact with nature), nutritional health (by supplementing diets with no-cost, fresh, micronutrient-dense foods and ingredients) and other positive economic, cultural, and ecological outcomes. The behaviors, motivations, and barriers to urban foraging remain under-characterized despite emerging literature on the subject. We conducted in-person surveys among foragers in the Baltimore metropolitan area, gathering information about species, quantity, seasonality, and preparation of harvested materials; frequency and locations of foraging activities; foraging experience; motivations for and barriers to foraging; and contributions of foraged materials to diets. Our sample of 105 urban foragers had a median of five years of experience, and gathered from over 175 distinct taxa. Foraged materials accounted for a median of 3 percent of diets overall, and over 10 percent of diets for one-fifth of participants. Respondents harvested a median of nearly 20 liters of edible material annually. The most common motivations for foraging were enjoyment and economic benefits, with time constraints and lack of knowledge as the most frequent barriers. Our findings provide a foundation for future work exploring the relationships among foraging, public health, and urban ecosystems, and could also play key roles in informing policy regarding the use and management of edible urban landscapes. This research broadens the conversation about urban food systems to recognize foraging as a contributing practice.