Family Foraging

Adventure, education, free and tasty ingredients all just outdoors

For many people, springtime has begun once they see asparagus and cherry tomatoes in the supermarket. But for our family, foraging is the true start of springtime.

Our family—me, my husband and our two children—enjoys learning where food comes from, whether it is at the farmers markets, at farms or hiking through the forest. It is important for us to arm our children with the knowledge to make the right choices when it comes to food, and foraging enables us to do so directly.

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Many people don’t realize that right outside your back door there is a wealth of edible Ohio. From the obvious and ever-present ramps and garlic mustards to the more obscure freshwater snails, rare mushrooms and wild ginger, there is an enormous variety of food right beneath your feet.

For us, it all began with a hike. We had recently moved back to Northeast Ohio from New York City. With our newborn in tow we headed out to the woods behind my uncle’s house in Valley City. He lives near the river and we often found solace in the quiet beauty of the forest.On this particular walk, we noticed an overwhelming aroma of onion. My husband soon dropped to his knees, tearing a bunch of green-stemmed vegetation from the forest floor. Much to my surprise he bit off the white tip and exclaimed “Woohoo, that’s a spicy ramp!” enjoying the ever-present garlic heat in the vegetable. We quickly noticed that fields of ramps surrounded us on all sides. Ramps, a product for which Jonathon gladly paid more than $15 per pound for his restaurant while living in New York, were naturally growing in the state to which we had just returned. Our family discovered a new hobby that day.

As easy as it is, foraging still requires preparation and education. On our family foraging trips we take a backpack filled with edible guidebooks like Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons, along with a pocketknife, flashlight, water and baggies.

While hiking we talk with our kids about what we see, using our guidebooks to identify plants and edibles. We make sure our kids know that not everything they see is edible and that some plants may be a danger to humans. It is also important that our children respect our natural resources, which is why the majority of the time, we don’t come home with our found goodies. The state park system in Ohio does not encourage foraging and we respect that.

A wonderful event that highlights the path of a forager is the annual Pestival at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. Pestival is a great way to participate and learn about using invasive species that grow in the Ohio forest as part of your meal. For more information, visit ShakerLakes.org. If you attend, you’ll get to enjoy the culinary expertise of many local chefs using garlic mustard, an invasive species that they will have foraged at Shaker Lakes.

Foraging is a way for our family to spend quality time together while educating our children about where food comes from. While our food system in this country is broken, Mother Nature is vibrant and alive in our forests. Foraging with our families is just one of the many steps we can take to better our community, our environment and ourselves.