CategoriesUncategorized

What’s Up With Wasted Dates?

You'll see this all over Phoenix in the late summer. (photo by Balaram Mahalder)

Don’t let the headline fool you. I’m not turning into a dating website (though I offer my friends lots of dating advice that they never take). But dates are on my mind.

The Phoenix area is full of big, beautiful, bountiful date trees. Come the end of summer, they begin to hang heavy with fruit. Before it ripens, though, landscaping crews scurry about. They cut the branches down and toss pounds upon pounds of growing dates into the trash. At grocery stores and farmers markets, these same dates sell for up to $10 a pound.

That’s right: Every date tree that gets pruned is a wasted opportunity -- to make money, to even feed some people. Sure, they’re tasty. They’re also a great source of potassium, iron and fiber. Yet they just wind up in the trash.

To the best of my knowledge, only Arizona State University is smart enough to harvest and sell its dates (and olives!). The university invited volunteers to prune the plants and take the harvest home. Sure, they’re not a revenue source. But at least the dates aren’t feeding and breeding legions of flies in a trash bin.

Every other municipality and property owner with date trees is squandering a great renewable resource. Considering our economy and the growing interest in being green, is there a better time to tap into an easy, ready-made source of urban agriculture?

I’d love to hear from our local city governments and property owners: Why do they allow this waste to continue? Help them do the right thing: Write to your city council representative. Knock on a nearby business owner’s door and say "hey, I’ll harvest ‘em." Figure out a way to harvest your own tree.

CategoriesUncategorized

Phoenix Foodie Teaches the Art of Urban Foraging

Where you see a barren field punctuated by a few dried-out weeds, Ian Fecke-Stoudt sees dinner.

urban foraging
Ian Fecke-Stoudt examines a sprig of sorrel.

Fecke-Stoudt leads a weekly urban foraging session in downtown Phoenix, starting at coffeehouse/boutique Conspire. The mission: to teach people about edibles growing right under their noses. Since he’s a vegan, Feck-Stoudt keeps it strictly to plants – no feral cats or pigeons, fortunately.

I joined a recent group in April, hoping to catch a few urban foraging pointers. In one of my earlier conversations with Feck-Stoudt, he mentioned -in a very nonchalant fashion- living off the land in the Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix for nearly three months. I expected a survivalist outlook, but he takes more of a food lover’s approach. Feck-Stoudt works for Sapna Cafe, and seems very interested in incorporating as much locally grown produce as possible – even if he didn’t find it growing wild on the corner of 5th Street and Roosevelt.

 

urban foraging
Inspecting a bit of mustard greens.

Staying Safe While Foraging

  • Make sure the plant isn’t poisonous and that it won’t cause an allergic reaction. Rub it on a sensitive part of your skin (inner elbow, neck) and wait 15 minutes for a reaction.
  • Be careful about where the plants are growing. Animals tend to pee on plants nears curbs, while humans will relieve themselves on plants near walls. “It’s harder to see the urine than the feces,” Fecke-Stoudt says.
  • Be aware of herbicides and pesticides. Look for spots that give the plants a “burned appearance.” You can generally wash either off the plants, though.

Some of What You Can Pick and Eat Downtown

There are lots more edibles in the desert and suburban areas, but these will get you started.

  • palm trees: The type of leaves will determine whether you have a date palm or not. The date palms have “feather” leaves, rather than fans. The fan palms feature black edible berries that are juicy in season. Fecke-Stoudt says the berry is caffeinated.
  • sorrel: A lemony tasting grass. Look for a yellow flower to mark its position.
  • oranges: Ornamental oranges have thicker, rougher skins. Despite the name and reputation, they’re still edible.

    urban foraging
    A close look at some nopales. 
  • palo verde: This ubiquitous green tree produces protein-rich seeds.
  • aloe vera: A desert succulent best known as a home remedy for sunburn is also edible, but … “I personally find it disgusting,” Fecke-Stoudt says.
  • nopales, AKA fan cactus: The smaller ones, also called nopalitos, are sweeter. Fecke-Stoudt says they contain 90 percent of the United States Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin A, potassium and many other nutrients.
  • cholla : Apparently, you can eat the notorious jumping cactus. Fecke-Stoudt recommends driving a stick through one of the balls and cooking it over an open fire to remove the needles.
  • mustard greens
urban foraging
The bounty of urban forage.

After foraging, Feck-Stoudt led us to a friend’s kitchen, where we mixed our urban foraging bounty with some items from local gardeners to whip up a vegan meal. If you’re up for a foraging session, drop into Conspire on a Sunday around 4:45 and be on the lookout for Ian Fecke-Stoudt!

Eva digs into a freshly gathered vegan meal.
Eva digs into a freshly gathered vegan meal.