Many urban and suburban dwellers think they don’t have enough land to grow food themselves, but it is not true. We have thousands of acres of public parks, and since they are public, they are also yours. Parks department helps to manage these beautiful forests on your behalf and is getting paid by your tax money. That is, you pay for the management of the local parks.
I like to go foraging to my nearby parks here in the Bronx, NY- Riverdale park and 1000+ acres VanCortlandt Park. By controlling invasive noxious weeds I help park rangers protect local ecosystems and help native species to thrive.
Although plants are renewable resources, still, it seems unfair to only be taking out without bringing anything in. The “take” mentality, replaced by “give” mentality makes one so much richer and happier, a well-proven fact. This is where, to me, Foraging meets Food Forestry.
Every lightly managed park essentially is a forest with its own balanced ecosystem complete with every natural cycle. Its soil is enriched naturally with decomposing leafs, plants and fallen trees.
Good healthy soil is the basis for growing productive, strong plants organically, that is, without man-made fertilizers. Utilizing this untapped, renewable resource for growing food seems like a good idea. I use non-intensive method of growing, placing non-invasive food crops randomly in the park to become natural parts of the existing, and often impoverished, ecosystem.
Random planting serves another reason: your plants cannot be easily found and identified when they mixed with original wild plants or other crops. Remember, anything you plant on the public property becomes public property. Your tomato plant you grow in the park is for everyone to enjoy- people and the wild life. This is why planting foods in the public parks is a very generous act. Fortunately for you, and for me, there is not much wild life in the city parks and the general public is so afraid of picking anything that grows on random bushes, that the chance of your crops being eaten by someone else is very slim. This will be true until me and you plant lots of food and people will know better. But this will probably never happen for various reasons.
Using established seedlings instead of seeds will heighten their chances of success. The seeds of garden vegetables have been weaken by generations of pampering and cannot compete with the stamina of wild plants. Only large seeds like those of potato have a very good chance for growing and giving you a crop without much care. You would have some success with root vegetables only if you put some care into the soil and weeding.
Don’t forget about the charming chain link fences! This already-in-place structure provide wonderful support for many climbing vines- tomatoes, squash, cucumbers. Nasturtiums are not only fully edible, they also have beautifying and uplifting effect with their flaming orange, yellow and red blossoms that don’t stop until they are killed by frost.
The best experience I had was with berry bushes: blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries. Blueberries proliferate in acidic soils of parks, can grow in a partial shade, and are a native to this part of the world. They get established easy and, once planted, will give you crop for next decade or two. They can cost about $10/bush in Home Depot, but to me, this investment well worth it.
Raspberries prefer neutral fertile soil and lots of sun. Gooseberries and blackberries can grow in poor soils.
Fallen trees are often left in parks to be decomposed by something unpalatable. Why not inoculate them with delicious Oyster mushrooms? Oysters are not parasitic fungi and will not affect leaving trees, but will help to clean up parks while providing you and I with delicious crop, which otherwise you can find in supermarkets at $30/lb. A large tree can fruit mushrooms for 8-10 years. After Hurricane Sandy I turned a small part of Riverside park into a mushroom farm. Go find it!
By practicing food forestry, observing and picking planting sites, learning about various cultures of fruits, vegetables and mushroom, you will surely become a true Permaculturist, a person, who lives in full harmony with Nature. After all, this is the only way we, people, will survive on this Planet.