Scounger. Junk Yard Dixie. Junk Collector. Neighbourhood Nuisance. Aggressive Recycler...what am I? I am a professional, fully qualified certified, experienced and explosively enthusiastic Urban Forager, a UF.
The day the Garbage Guys became Sanitation Engineers, we, the night time curb artists became Urban Foragers, respected, dignified, out of the closet (which was full anyway). We may even go to Wisconsin to Unionize! With dedication, serious work, massive commitment and a thick hide, you could become a Pro, too.
Here's the story.
Walking in the streets of Shanghai once we came across two guys just pounding on what looked like old circuit breakers and getting whatever valuable things they could salvage. Copper. Serious, expensive, high demand copper. China is built on it and there is an instant market.
In Cambodia, the familiar sound of the ladies who signal with New Year Eve squackers that they are outside your door to pay for some treasured trash, fills our street every morning. Mind you these troopers are specialized...cans and bottles, steel and copper pipe, cardboard...all different prices and each scrutinized with a DeBeers calibre evaluation thoroughness. All have different end buyers for the waste.
The weighing scale is ready for anyone who brings whatever paper or tetra paks or bottles or scrap metal or shell casings or land mines (usually deactivated) and if it's your waste, you get a tiny payment, too. Urban Foraging at its height! This all gave us the idea that the Dickensian role of garbage picket had been elevated to serious status and even respect. And then we began to hear friends and even relatives boasting of great finds.
Foraging-Not just in poor countries
It is not only in poor countries that this happens. In Canada, in a large city, we have watched elegant strollers, often with a pooch, drift by on garbage night. Later in work clothes and small trucks, the same strollers show up as UFs locking on the first seen treasures: wine bottles and beer cans, an old floor polisher or foot stool. Swag lamps that embarrass by day! When you don't need anymore old lawn mowers or sewing machine, just leave it at the curb and before you know it, it's taken. Your trash is treasure to the Urban Forager who knows a downstream buyer eager for “stuff".
Foraging in Parks and Public Places
Many urban foragers gather food from nature. Nature offers so much food that will only go to waste if not harvested. In spring, you can get those fresh, young dandleion leaves and enjoy a hearty salad. In the Fall, think of those delicious berries or figs and apples from abandoned farms. This form of foraging has become quite popular among urban residents who have now formed groups to share know how on what to gather and also about the bountiful places these things can be taken from.
Some of these urban foragers have identified over two hundred species of what can be gathered as food. Some have been doing this for over 60 years and depend on this for food. Find out about these groups close to you. You will be amazed at how organize they are and how much knowledge they have.
Here's a good guide for those who forage for food. You are more confident when you know what you are gathering.
Now, now, let's be honest. How many times have you circled your street during garbage days? Or, you happen to be walking from work and your eyes spotted in someone's garbage something you can use. Or, you stroll through the park and you saw those delicious berries just ripe for the picking.
Are you a collector of anything vintage? Much of this is sourced on urban curbs. I remembered last summer just dumping old books and what have you in the curb on garbage day when we moved house. There was no more space available in the car for some treasures. They were gone by morning and our sanitation Engineers just laughed at us when we looked puzzled.
We know of people in New York ...well off... who just delight in the surreptitious reconnoitre the night before garbage collection day, for the chance to ear-mark treasures. Competitive snatch and grab!
Many of their finds end up in Ebay and the only value added is the elegant descriptive language. Most theatre is illusion and New York is really theatre. Presentation is everything.
Urban foragers do not limit themselves to trash at the curbs on garbage days. Some even harvest food in parks and public areas such as edible plants and eggs from wild fowls...mushrooms, day lilies, berries, dandelion leaves...nasturtium seeds. Many are not poor. They want to encourage good environmental practice or make a statement on silly consumption and waste.
Indeed if you have the skills, you can do well in foraging. You can easily fix many of these thrown away appliances and resell them. You can fix some of the discarded collectibles and get good money for them especially scarce toys, comic books, weird lamps, some books. It's not just for bearded men in sandals or hippy left over hippies.
Many of these urban foragers are proud of the choice they make. They boast to friends and even gather in bars. Social networks? Wow, when trash night comes the Tweets are an avalanche.
Urban foraging has taken on in major cities where there is a group making a strong stand on too much waste and garbage.
OK...here's the truth...my Dad could never leave a broken lamp abandoned at the curb. Massive approach-avoidance conflict....but when it became dark...with no one to be seen....SNATCH....and another appliance was saved for a new life. He was well off...but the morality involved in senselesss waste was just too much for a great depression graduate. Urban foragers are those who gather and harvest things that are still useful in urban environments. These may take the form of discarded items in garbage bins or plants and other products from public areas.
Some UFs drive out to more affluent areas when garbage is put out.
Others even knock on doors for empty beer cans and wine bottles....although that is frowned on among the "pros".
Others just take a walk in their own on the night before garbage day in the hope of spotting some useful items. A dog is a wonderful disguise. Sunglasses in the rain are a sure give away!
Once, when we were moving house I just left a mass of "stuff" in the driveway. The troops were there faster than ants to breadcrumbs....and many seemed to know each other...a great community. They were not stealing. They just were evaluating high value targets for the swoop once the declaration of garbage status had been made by the move to the curb! So be careful about leaving things on the lawn.
Foraging no longer means secretly sneaking along the curb on garbage day. No, it is making a much needed stand for an issue everyone wants to support...and with a sense of moral authority, the foragers will whip up almost anything even close to the curb!
Maybe you should rethink your attire. Be stylish. You are no longer a junk collector but an urban forager. Dress in style when you go out in your urban foraging. Start with eco-friendly but stylish bags to stash your foraged items without compromising your stylish urbanity.
Welcome Or Unwelcome
Some cities welcome and encourage Urban Foragers. Many communities are happy to watch them reduce the burden on landfills when they pick up trash and recycle it into useful items. I am always happy to see some of my old stuff taken as I know it will be put to better use. Urban foragers promote recycling and as such raise the level of awareness of people on the care for the environment.
I know many neighbours who set aside recyclable pop cans and bottles for the guys who knock on doors. Many are quite enterprising, building a profitable business from these recycled items creating prosperity in the community or a job for themselves. And if you want any of your "stuff "back...you will probably find it in next year's garage sales...one street over.
Others in the community do not welcome UFs. They think it a violation of their privacy when someone rummages their garbage bins. Some renegade UFs are guilty of leaving garbage all over the place. Most are very careful as they are committed to caring for the environment. Other city folk are afraid that these urban foragers may just be looking for ways to break into their homes and steal so they do not want to encourage them. Come on...live a little.....get out there yourself and find a bicycle to fix!
Risks in Urban Foraging
Urban foragers...be careful. Foraging in public areas has many risks. It could affect your health, compromise your safety, and get you into other kinds of trouble. It is good to connect with a group operating in your area so you can learn from their experience. But really, once in a while, get into it and have the adventure of your life.
Urban foragers are getting stronger as they have found each other and formed groups. Many of them take care of the places where they forage which is much welcome to the community with no budget to maintain many of those public places. Many others in the community understand this as a wholesome community activity that they even ended up organizing sharing of whatever bounty they so much of.
Some municipalities are not very enthusiastic. They have already stopped many of these activities and have declared them illegal. Their concerns are many and some of these are the use of chemicals in the park thereby making nature's bounty not really good for eating.
There are issues of safety and security when some urban foragers just take whatever fruits they see in someone's backyard or front yard. Some may gather without knowing poisonous plants which can have unhappy consequences. In some cases, urban foragers when gathering so much of the flowers in the park can leave the parks with nothing to make it attractive to residents.
Weighing these issues, what do you think?
Neighborhood sharing and better relations have resulted from many foraging activities. This is especially true in communities where fruits and berries are grown in the back yard...or some newbie planted zucchini! Often, the owners cannot really harvest or consume the fruits from their trees.
Asiya Wadud, featured in David Pogue's New York Times article, organized a neighborhood fruit exchange in Oakland California when she saw the trees in her neighborhood laden with fruits that seemed doomed to rot.
More websites are coming up such as veggietrader.com, fallenfruit.org and neighborhood exhanges, too, benefiting many in the community, enabling some to sample delicious fruits from the neighborhood and helping people to harvest their trees. Social websites can be fantastic for this...so sign up!
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