Foraging for wild food is something we tend to leave to the experts. As inspired as we are by the likes of NOMA’s Rene Redzepi, most of us are scared of being one of those idiots who poison themselves by picking wild mushrooms. But what if you had an up-to-date, verified map that showed you where and what you could munch on? That’s what UC Berkeley professors Philip Stark and Tom Carlson have created as part of their “Reaping Without Sowing” research project.

The duo are recording any wild edibles they find in the East Bay area onto the Berkeley Open Source Food Map, which looks like a Google map with a bunch of green pins on it. Click on a pin and you’ll see a detailed entry with a photo of a plant, information about what it is, it’s exact location, and when it was spotted.

Photo:  Berkeley Open Source Food

Turns out there’s a veritable salad growing in those pavement cracks. Some of the most common ingredients they’ve found include dandelion, fennel, wild lettuce, wild onion, and wild radish. And here’s the kicker: They’re growing most abundantly in “food deserts”—urban, often low-income areas where residents have limited access to fresh produce.

That’s because many of these plants are considered weeds. Ironically, in areas where people garden and buy organic dandelion greens from Whole Foods, they’re also more likely to get rid of the free dandelion greens growing outside their front door.

A Whole Foods fact sheet about dandelion greens. (Photo: Whole Foods)

A Whole Foods fact sheet about dandelion greens. (Photo: Whole Foods)

That’s why—along with making this map—Stark and Carlson are trying to change people’s minds about eating “pest” plants by making them available at farmers markets and getting them on menus at trendy restaurants like Chez Panisse. They’re hoping that mainstream acceptance will trickle down, so that eventually people living in food deserts will capitalize on the fact that nutritious groceries are growing all around them.

Getting people past the ick factor of eating something that they pulled out of the ground themselves is no easy task, especially in areas where people don’t eat a lot of fresh produce to begin with. Two year old site Falling Fruit crowdsources foraging locations ranging from fruit trees in public parks to freegan-approved dumpsters—but it’s a resource created by foragers for foragers. If Stark and Carlson succeed, people won’t think about wild food as foraged, they’ll just think of it as a free lunch.

[via Bay Area Bites]