Urban foraging book gives new meaning to ‘street food’ • Brooklyn Paper

Urban foraging book gives new meaning to ‘street food’

Ava Chin, a forager and author of “Eating Wildly” leads a foraging class in Fort Greene Park.
Photo by Alec Jacobson

Ava Chin is after feast of mind.

Chin’s upcoming memoir “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” talks about how she started her serious foraging habit to take her attention off a hard breakup, channelling her energy into learning about plants and how to find wild edible weeds in the most unlikely places.

Chin grew up in Queens, where her first foraging discovery as a young child was field garlic, which reminded her of the scallions and the Chinese chives that her grandfather used to cook with.

“My mother wouldn’t want me to eat it but I would always eat it,” she said.

She began her Brooklyn gathering in Clinton Hill and Park Slope. At first, though, she didn’t think of the area as a place where nature thrived.

“I was a little nervous when I first started out, but as I started forging I realized there were actually plenty of wild edibles to find,” Chin said.

She soon started writing about her plant-seeking adventures for a local section of the New York Times focused on Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Park and, after a year of that, Chin expanded her range into a citywide column called “Urban Forager.”

If she had to pick one place in Brooklyn to treat as a wild supermarket, Chin said she would have to go with Prospect Park.

“There are so many great areas that are a little more wooded and secluded,” she said.

Brooklyn’s backyard offers a forager an escape from the urban pollution afflicting much of the borough, according to Chin, with many areas that are more elevated and further away from the toxin-belching machines that dominate the city.

“There aren’t a lot of cars that necessarily go through there, and there are certain hours of the day that cars don’t drive through the park,” said Chin. “Your chances of finding more pristine wild edibles are grander.”

Prospect Park has some of the city’s best wild edibles, such as mulberries, mushrooms and day lilies, Chin said. The untrained eye passes over them, but these leafy delicacies flourish throughout the park’s grounds, from just off of the jogging paths to the un-landscaped edges of ponds, she said.

Along the borough’s sidewalks, Chin practices and teaches what she calls “guerrilla foraging” or “street foraging” — trawling tree planters and cracks in the pavement for natural items to nosh.

On these jaunts, Chin explains she isn’t actually collecting things to eat, but rather is inspecting what snacks are growing from block to block.

“It’s to kind of sharpen my foraging skills,” she said.

Chin shows others how to play these hunger games so that they might hone their edible-spotting skills for use in less grimy climes.

“If they find themselves in an area that’s a little bit more rural or a little further away from pollution they’ll already be trained to see it,” said Chin.

Chin’s memoir comes out this month.

She will be read from her new book at the Central Library on May 18.

“Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” talk at the Central Library [10 Grand Army Plaza between Flatbush Ave. and Eastern Pkwy in Park Slope, (718) 230–2100, www.bklynlibrary.org]. May 18 at 1:30pm. Free.

Ava Chin’s “Eating Wildly.”

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