The forest envelops the coast of the Christchurch Peninsula, carpets of pine needles give way to bright fragments of greenery from the ocean. Settling in golden needles, Dylan Parker finds his prize: a bunch of dusty brown slippery mushrooms, barely noticeable at first glance, which sound dull when tapped – perfect for eating. He gives them a quick slap to clear the spores, cleans them of dirt and puts them in his basket, where dinner ingredients slowly accumulate.

У New Zealandas inflation and rising prices have raised food prices to sky-highs, more and more people are turning to food extraction to replenish the contents of their pantries. Communities identify fruit and nut trees, warn each other of future incidents, develop knowledge of edible weeds and teach themselves to distinguish the delicious mushroom birch boletus from poisonous ones.

Dylan Parker gathers mushrooms along the Christchurch coastline Photo: Naomi Hausman

In some places, competition may intensify. Harvesters who do not want to give away their precious spots of white mushrooms, will stealthily rustle through the litter of leaves, trying to hide their intentions. “You’ll see these old guys, and they won’t even tell you what they’re doing,” Parker laughs, tossing a basket of mushrooms over his hand. “They say, ‘Oh, I just lost the ring!’ holding a bag full of lumps.

Food mining is popular in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, where devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 destroyed large chunks of the city. Ten years later, gaps remain, like broken teeth in a smile on the horizon. In some of these gaps nature has prevailed, and wild rabbits run through empty plots. The Red Zone, a vast space stretching from the coastline to the inner city, was deemed too volatile to rebuild, and 8,000 homes were demolished or removed. They left behind a surreal tangle of abandoned dead ends, split footpaths, expanding meadows and gardens left to run wild. Demolition crews have decided to leave the trees, and now there are thousands of fruit trees and vines in the area. This is a favorite for foragers.

“It started with us exploring the red zone, even before the houses were demolished,” says Sandy Galvin, who led her three-year-old son Leon to collect food. “We realized how many fruit trees and things were left, and it turned from an urban study to a fruit and nut harvest.” Now harvest apples and pears, grapes, feijoawalnuts, occasionally lucky apricots.

Leon proudly waves a white mushroom with her. “It doesn’t smell poisonous,” he said. (Galvin, a gardener, advises caution when eating wild mushrooms if you are unsure of their safety.) Over time, she says, foraging has become a fun activity for their family, but also a way to cut food bills. “If you have a baby, you know they’re little apple rodents,” she says. “I can’t believe the cost of apples.”

The Christchurch Red Zone was created when 8,000 homes were demolished after earthquakes in the city - now it has become an urban desert
The Christchurch Red Zone was created when 8,000 homes were demolished after earthquakes in the city – now it has become an urban desert Photo: Naomi Hausman

In February, food prices in New Zealand rose 6.8% from a year earlier, the biggest increase in a decade. Fruits and vegetables became especially high – in January they grew by 15% compared to the same period last year. In March, buyers reported that pieces of cheddar cheese had reached $ 20 per kilogram, and a head of cauliflower could cost $ 15. This week’s Westpac NZ survey among 1,600 customers found that 83% were concerned about rising prices for food and other necessities. Anxiety was particularly common among young New Zealanders, nearly 90% for those under 35.

“The competition is growing,” says Galvin. “When we first started collecting things and getting food, you were lucky if one person did the same thing – over the years it became more popular.”

Joanna Wildish already knows the red zone well: she started earning food seriously around the time of the earthquakes, and abandoning the red zone coincided with the limited budgets of their household. “We really wanted to find free sources of food and resources in the city – we had financial problems and we really wanted to just see what was there,” she says. “So. [we] started with things like picking pine cones and searching the local parks for pears, apples, walnuts and all sorts of things. ”

With rising food prices in New Zealand people are turning to urban fodder to find affordable food
With rising food prices in New Zealand people are turning to urban fodder to find affordable food Photo: Naomi Hausman

Wildish founded the group Ōtautahi Urban Foraging, where people exchange tips on ripe fruit crops, places for fruit trees and feed recipes. She says it was “created to help relieve the stress of poverty.” Over time, she noticed that the number increased significantly – not only in the group itself, but also the number of people with whom she sees and collects food. “It’s amazing how much it’s grown – and I wonder if that’s a necessity for a lot of people,” she says.

Food collectors say that it is not only an economic necessity, but also a source of pleasure – it is a way to meet fruits and vegetables on their natural soil, to develop a stronger sense of connection with the place and the season. It is also a way to bring back food from alienated states in which we often encounter it: chilled, with a film wrapped in polystyrene or restored beyond recognition. Nice and excited to notice the herbal flavor of fresh undried walnuts, the dark earthy smell of mushrooms plucked from under birch leaves, the sweet aniseed taste of wild fennel flower pollen.

“The connection to the seasons is a really strong thing you get from food extraction,” Dylan says. “Because you can’t go to the supermarket and pick tomatoes at any time of the year. Things ripen when they ripen, and everything has its season.

Purchase of feed
Forage harvesting is growing Photo: Naomi Hausman

“Quality food is now unavailable to most people, I think. But you can come here and choose the most nutritious salad. After an hour of walking around the peninsula his basket is full: mushrooms, miner’s salad, mallow, wild parsley and fennel. Most of the dishes he eats now have feed ingredients. “I think a lot of people understand that,” he says. “I notice the impact in the places where I forage, and I see more traffic from more people – that’s something I’m very interested in. I love when there are more and more foragers. I think there will always be enough for everyone. “

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