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.

Coffee Culture Showdown – Comparing Caffeine

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Coffee is a shape-shifting drink. No matter what country you’re in, that country has added something distinct to the coffee bean and the way people drink it. Each time I travel out of North America, I find a little learning curve waiting for me.

Imagine an Australian visiting a cafe in California and asking for a flat white. You can count on that traveler getting a blank stare from the barista. Same for an American visiting a non-Starbucks coffeehouse in Costa Rica asking for a Frappuccino, and so on.


My first experience abroad as a coffee drinker was in Costa Rica. I was expected some awesome coffee since Costa Rica is famous for exporting quality beans. I couldn’t wait to drink some coffee – even after checking into our hotel at about 9 p.m., I found a pot brewing in the lobby. I scoured the area looking for cream, only to find out Costa Ricans don’t take cream in their coffee. Better yet, I learned it doesn’t really need it. I also found that just about any place that serves coffee serves it well, from a roadside soda to a full-service coffee pillar like Cafe Milagro. Most of it is brewed rather than served espresso style.

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