This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer. You can read the entire series here.
This entry is by Catherine Darin, COL ’16
When I tell people I spent my summer working on an urban foraging project in Berkeley, CA, they are typically pretty confused. Once I explain urban foraging – it’s harvesting and consuming edible invasive plants (weeds) growing on sidewalks, yards, parks, empty lots, and other public land– they’re still a bit perplexed. I tend to get asked three questions. Do people really do that? Isn’t it unsanitary – what about dog pee? What are you even majoring in?
To answer the first two questions: yes, there are thriving urban foraging communities across the US, including Philadelphia, and no, urban foraging isn’t unsanitary. Don’t worry about dog pee – it’s water soluble, so if you wash your plants, you should be fine.
My answer to the third question tends to surprise people the most. I’m actually studying Economics. But, although it was a bit unconventional for an Econ major, (it’s not finance or consulting) my summer internship with Berkeley Open Source Food very much complimented my Economics coursework at Penn, and also allowed me to pursue my interests in food and agriculture.
Through an economic lens, urban foraging yields a positive externality on society. When people forage, they are consuming fresh, nutritious plants that benefit health and the environment. Foraged foods are filled with vitamins and micronutrients, and have virtually no carbon or water footprint, (which is particularly important with California’s current drought), and pose no financial cost. One of my research tasks this summer was to try to quantify the economic impact of bringing foraged plants into the supply chain, particularly in low-income “food deserts”. This involved lots of data analysis and academic research.
But, there’s obviously a big stigma attached to eating food growing on the street. The other work of my internship was focused on actually building a supply chain between weeds and consumers, so that the potential benefits of foraging can be realized. I loved this part of my internship. One day I might be visiting an urban organic farm, seeing what weeds are growing there that local restaurants may want to buy to serve on their menus. Another day I may be contacting plant nurseries, inquiring if they carry certain native edibles that could be used in an edible garden on the UC Berkeley campus. Other times I would get to play around with cooking dandelions greens, nasturtium, radishes, and many other weeds, to give people ideas on how ways of incorporating these plants into their diets.
I feel very lucky that I was able to work with Berkeley Open Source Food this summer. I think that learning about foraging, which is definitely unusual, has piqued my curiosity as a student and as a person, leaving me very excited and motivated to for my last year of classes at Penn. It has also left me inspired to continue to pursue my interest in food systems, as I am actively looking into pursuing an agricultural economics degree after I graduate.