New York City Urban Field Station

Urban Foraging

[photo:] Foraging workshop in Central Park.  Photo by Bryant Smith.People need food, and city dwellers are turning to their local green spaces to get it. As a result, attention to urban foraging is growing in print and social media. At the same time, scholars and social movements are calling for city green spaces to provide “public produce”, fungi and plant or tree products that are both deliberately cultivated and wild.


Drs. Patrick Hurley (Ursinus College) and Marla R. Emery (U.S. Forest Service) are conducting research on urban foraging in New York City. Interviews with foragers have documented dozens of species of plants and fungi being picked in spaces that include cemeteries, public rights of way, and parks.  Motivations for foraging range from perceived healthfulness and enjoyment of special flavors to the need to fill out meager food budgets.  The research has also found that people  who organize foraging events are trying to learn more about the ecology and history of the places they visit and the species being foraged.


[photo:] Rubus sp. in the Bronx.  Photo by Patrick Hurley. Implications for urban green space policy and management include urban forest composition, public health, sustainability, and stewardship.  For example, foraging raises questions about the choice of species for large tree planting efforts that can affect the presence (or absence) of fruit and nut bearing trees in the urban forest.  Likewise, while exercise and intimate contact with nature connected to foraging have known benefits for physical and emotional health, the potential for toxic contamination of wild foods may be cause for concern.  In addition, as close observers of green spaces, foragers are likely to be among the first to notice environmental changes and could become allies in efforts to identify problems that need management attention.


Further research is needed to understand land manager perspectives, land ownership and access issues, and the diversity of urban spaces where foraging occurs.  While land managers are likely to have questions about the sustainability of these practices , a more comprehensive set of questions related to biophilic cities may also be at play. USDA Forest Service researchers are also studying foraging in Seattle and Washington, DC.

Research Products

U.S. Forest Service. 2013. Increasing access to food in urban agroecosystems – food security, foraging, and urban green space managing in an era of changing climates. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Urban Natural Resources Institute. [webcast]. Available at http://www.unri.org/webcasts/international/ (Accessed Sept. 4, 2013).

McLain, R.J.; MacFarland, K.; Brody, L.; Hebert, J.; Hurley, P.; Poe, M.; Buttolph, L.P.; Gabriel, N.; Dzuna, M.; Emery, M.R.; Charnley, S. 2012. Gathering in the city: an annotated bibliography and review of the literature about human-plant interactions in urban ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-849. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 107 p.

McLain, Rebecca; Poe, Melissa; Hurley, Patrick T.; Lecompte-Mastenbrook, Joyce; Emery, Marla R. 2012. Producing edible landscapes in Seattle's urban forest. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 11: 187-194.