The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged Americans to make use of the ample available land by gifting 160 acres of land to eligible applicants. While the act isn’t still in place, the ideas surrounding it are. Homesteaders like us all over the country are making a commitment to help heal local land. We want to learn how to work it in a way that is beneficial to all. Foraging is one way to do this. If you’ve already got a handle on what kinds of foods you’ll want to look for, the next step to successfully foraging is understanding what kinds of tools you need and how to use them safely.
Choosing the Right Knife
If you’ve been around the homestead a few times, you’ll be hip to the knowledge that it’s important to always carry a knife with you when foraging. Not only can it get you out of some sticky situations, but it is also necessary for cutting certain plants from their stems or roots. Doing so will preserve their freshness and overall quality. This plays a large role in sustainable foraging, which is something we personally commit to as homesteaders.
This makes choosing the right knife an important part of foraging. You’ll want to make the least amount of impact on the local ecosystem as possible. Small knives with a forward curving blade and blunt serrations work great for cutting plants and fungi. Opting for a larger custom knife, like a Japanese knife, can offer you more diversity when it comes time to chop up what you’ve found and cook it in the kitchen.
Should You Cut or Pull?
While this debate is particularly relevant to foraging wild mushrooms, the question of whether to cut the food from the ground or pull it from its roots plagues the entire foraging community, even us. Those in favor of cutting plants note that simply pulling it from the ground can affect the fibers inside. Those fibers give it life. Others, however, claim that cutting it is harmful to the stump. They say this will cause the remaining plant life to rot.
We won’t let you in on which side we’re on, as it’s not important. However, it’s generally suggested to cut plants from the ground, especially fungi. We find that it’s more important to focus your time and energy on treading lightly through your natural surroundings. The greatest threat to fungal health has been shown to be trampling on the forest floor.
Sustainable Foraging Practices
Part of safely foraging is learning how to do so sustainably. As homesteaders looking to give back to the Earth, we’ve certainly tried to find ways to do this ourselves. When foraging, we recommend only taking as much as you need. For example, we only take what we might need for that day or for the rest of the week. It’s also important to think like a local wherever you are. When we are foraging here in Northern Michigan, we know which species are legal to forage and abundant enough to do so. When travelling, it’s important to understand what’s abundant and safe to forage in the area you find yourself in.
Lastly, we personally believe in foraging nutrient-dense foods. Food that can be consumed as part of a whole foods diet. Foraging these types of foods in a safe, sustainable way will help you sustain a healthy diet and keep your foraged pantry stocked full.
Ensure Everybody Knows How to Use the Tools
It goes without saying that if you are going to incorporate tools, especially sharp ones, into your homesteading and foraging experiences, you’ll want to practice proper safety techniques. If you are going to be using knives, it helps to keep them sharp. Dull knives cause more accidents than sharp ones.
Always cut away from your body. Never allow children to play with them unless they’re under the supervision of an adult. Ensuring everybody on the homestead, even the children, know how to properly handle a knife, pruning shears and other foraging gear will help keep everybody safe. And, tread lightly through the natural areas you’ll be wandering through so as not to disturb the local habitats.
Learn as You Go
Part of the beauty of foraging is learning more and more about your natural surroundings as you gain more experience. Armed with the right gear and the right information about how to use it, you’ll be able to enhance your foraging experience each time you head out. This will increase the ways in which you’re able to harvest it all.