“There is food all around us,” says Green Deane as he grandly sweeps his arm to gesture at the nearby landscape. All I can see is a vacant field next to a Publix. With decades of experience in plant identification and thousands of hours spent nibbling his way through state parks and urban green spaces, this legendary Florida forager has quite a leg up on me in terms of horticulture knowhow. Lucky for me, he’s happy to share.
Green Deane and I have met outside a Maitland Starbucks to chat about his foraging classes, which he runs nearly every weekend somewhere in Florida. He charges $30 for a four-hour, on-location workshop.
I am frantically typing as he throws out the names of wild edibles in rapid-fire succession from a seemingly endless mental rolodex. “These are all listed on my website,” he says. Thank goodness!
This Maine native has been teaching people about foraging for nearly two decades, full-time since 2008. “I’ve always been a plant person and this feels positive. It’s helping people to see the world around them differently.”
I’m surprised when he tells me he can find more edibles in urban parks than in state parks. “State parks have many plants but many are the same species. But city parks have the natives but so much more. Two weeks ago we identified 80 edible species at Mead Gardens in Winter Park.”
The trick, Deane tells me, is all in identification. “Just as you can identify the difference between a cat and a dog and a horse, you can learn to see the difference in plants and know which are safe.” Biden’s Elbow is his perfect example. “You’ll find it nearly everywhere in the south, year round. It’s a good substitute for spinach and has twice the nutrition.”
Maybe sensing my skepticism, Deane pops up and says “let’s go take a look in that field.” We’re not even two feet onto the grassy field when Deane crouches, plunges his hand into the soil, and starts munching. “See, this is Biden’s Elbow. It’s everywhere.” We chat about being careful about polluted areas or green spaces that may have been recently sprayed. He’s never gotten sick from noshing the wrong plant species (while plenty of noxious and lethal varieties exist in Florida) but he has been made quite ill from eating something that was polluted. “The real challenge is deciding whether the soil and the water is wholesome. Make sure you’re looking at the environment to make sure it’s clean.”
There’s construction on one side, a busy street behind me, and a nasty looking retention pond not too far off in the distance. Deane can also tell that there are areas where the grass has been sprayed with a weed killer. We’re not going to be having lunch here today, but the lesson is enlightening just the same.
Not a lot of munching happens during Deane’s classes either, and that’s partly to do with the fact that foraging on public property is illegal in Florida. But his classes and dozens of online YouTube videos give foraging enthusiasts lots of knowledge to head out on their own if they choose.
Deane tells me that interest in foraging has grown exponentially in recent years. “I get a smattering of vegetarians in my class who want more food, more flavors, more textures. Also raw vegetarians. There is a lot less for them because a lot of what can be foraged needs to be cooked.” That’s a fact that has turned this ardent forager into a gourmand; as he points out two dozen or so edibles we see on our stroll, he also shares how to prepare them. “The method of preparation is really important,” he says.
In less than 30 minutes I know more about wild edibles than I’ve ever known before, but that’s just a tiny slice of all there is to learn. If you want to learn more, check out one of Green Deane’s classes listed on his online calendar or subscribe to his Eat The Weeds YouTube channel. Happy hunting!
Kristen Manieri is travel and lifestyle writer living in Orlando, FL with her husband and two little girls. A regular contributor to Edible Orlando and Orlando Magazine, she is continuously scouring the city searching for the next great person, place, or adventure to share. Learn more at www.KristenManieri.com.