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Forage Fest 2011 at Gris Gris Lab with Food Justice student Lena Tenenbaum

May 9, 2011




Urban Foraging

By Lena Tenenbaum- former Gris Gris Lab farmer/ forager in residence

   “I’m going to have to call you back….” There are some things I just can’t explain to family over the phone, like why I’d just climbed up an orange tree mid-conversation. Or even stranger, why I’m suddenly bleeding from my arm and pinned to a fence by the seat of my pants, yet still clutching a shirtful of oranges and shouldering my cell phone. It’s a real conversation killer, let me tell you. But the thing is, foraging has become pure habit for me. My eyes automatically scan every tree for edibles and I’m just like a child–my fingers gravitate toward fruit faster than mother conscience can say no. So this is how I lead my glamorous life as an urban forager, very very stuck. On a fence. In broad daylight. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            We live in a land of free food–juicy, flavorful and unlike anything I’ve ever picked from pyramid displays on supermarket shelves. Did you know that within a square mile of the Gris Gris Lab one can find mulberries, Japanese plums, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, kumquats, blood oranges, figs, rosemary, mint, lemon balm, wild lettuces, clover, dandelions, and pecans? New Orleans has this reputation for being a food desert, but that sounds like an oasis to me.

            I came down here in January and I’ve enjoyed getting to know this city through its food. I started walking everywhere and began snacking along the way. At first I timidly picked kumquats from trees planted in sidewalks, but I quickly grew bold and started hopping fences and climbing to the topmost branches. It’s a hobby that has led to many meaningful conversations. When people see me taking fruit, they usually say something along the lines of, “Oranges, huh??” I’ll offer them some fruit and it usually leads to two strangers sharing a moment and a snack.

            I’ve met people who reminisce. “When I was a kid, these trees used to be everywhere. And mimosas, too. Oh, how we loved them. Used to can marmalades with my grandma.”

            I’ve met people who rant. “When that **** blight hit the citrus, the **** city made us cut down our tree. And now my ***** neighbor won’t let me plant any **** trees because they don’t want fruit falling on the **** cars. ”

            I’ve met people who have known hatred. “When I was a little girl, my friend and I used to go to City Park to pick blackberries. It was whites only back then. But we went anyway. I remember one time having to run and hide out in a shop to escape a mob of white men who chased us out of the park.”

            I’ve met people who teach. “Did you know that 90% of satsumas are grown in Placherman’s Parish right on the levee?”

            I’ve met people who own the trees. “This was a seedling when I bought the house fifteen years ago. Please, take as much as you can and tell your friends to come, too.”

            I’ve found a lot more than just food in my foraging. By finding my food at its source, I have found community. I have found stories. I have found New Orleans.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 19, 2011 3:20 pm

    Awesome article, thanks for this Lena. Sometimes we tend to forget that we don’t have to spend money to enjoy great food. When we are fotunate to be surrounded by fresh fruit provided for us by nature our health and wallets benefit. peace to you!

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