On the corner of Hunter Street and Baker Street, Free Food Foragers is a grassroots initiative that began in 2014 to share knowledge of foraging, self-sustainability, free food and wild edibles.
Free Food Foragers was founded by Ingrid, who moved from Melbourne to Castlemaine in 2013 with her partner Michael and their new son, Oscar. New to the area, she spent a lot of time walking and noticed many plants that sparked her curiosity, her first being a sticky weed commonly known as Cleaver which was in her garden and difficult to get rid of. Doing some research, she found that Cleaver is actually an edible weed with great health benefits. She researched and discovered that many other plants growing wild locally also had medicinal and nutritional qualities, and so her obsession with foraging began.
Ingrid and Michael then began to cultivate certain plants at their home which are commonly considered weeds, but which have many benefits. Another example is that she makes tea with stinging nettles which are high in iron, calcium and magnesium and have a pleasant nutty flavour. When cooked or dried the nettles lose their sting and can be used to treat muscle cramps or improve the immune system and mental calmness.
Ingrid has been using recipes and techniques from older people and from European recipes, as well as through trial and error that have enabled her to cut their food bills drastically. She has since turned her passion into the business it is today, running workshops to share her knowledge.
With people becoming more curious about where their food comes from, what pesticides are being used on it, and the damage that can be caused to the environment by modern food production methods, her workshops have been extremely popular and well received.
Workshop topics include mushroom identification and cooking to basic bush-craft survival skills and even seaweed foraging. This can include removing invasive weed edibles from the wild and adding them to a menu.
Benefits of foraging
Foraging gives you time in nature, which scientists say increases the feeling of well-being, which they have termed biophilia. Connecting with the community, spending time with other people whilst also exercising are some of the other benefits. Children also find it fun, and with no food miles, the organic, fresh, good nutrition that is collected is free. Eating what is in season connects you to the earth, and there is also the thrill of the hunt. The only downside is that it takes a little bit more time and effort than visiting the local store for provisions.
Free food foragers are perfect for those new to finding out about many of the plants once eaten by our ancestors, taking only what you need so the plant can recover for other people to use. Research can also be done online, though she suggests if there is any doubt about a particular plant or fungus that it should be left alone.