Here’s how to forage for your food
Words by Georgie Sinclair
Photos by Maurice Boyer, Reinder Bakker & Wouter Kooken
Roll up your sleeves! We’re going foraging in Westerpark with de Onkruidenier. Afterwards, a tasty reward concocted from our findings. Just one week before their appearance at the Greenhouse Festival, we caught up with Jonmar, to hear about their passion for creating edible experiences and the mysterious guidebook that taught them all of nature’s best-kept secrets.
How did your story begin?
I had studied landscape architecture and was taught how to deal with plants in a very practical way. One day, we came across a book my grandmother had once owned. It contained all kinds of recipes and rituals that could be used for vegetables, herbs and fruits. She had used it to go foraging for food to feed my father and his siblings. The book changed our lives.
What kinds of things were you doing?
We got this idea into our heads that we would start using our local landscape as a supermarket like my grandmother had once done, so we went to Westerpark in Amsterdam to go food shopping. It was amazing because we found so much. After that we started getting more experimental. At some point we were washing our hair with berries, making our own cleaning products to wash our clothes, and brewing beer with weeds. Our friends even began asking us if everything was OK as our whole living room was completely overrun by the plants and weeds we were harvesting.
And how did that develop into what you are doing today?
At a certain point people became curious in what we were doing, so we began catering with weeds. People were astounded with what we were able to create. Last year we built our mobile workstation to help us continue our research, and with it we travel around the Netherlands. We get so much enjoyment telling new stories from the landscapes we visit, creating edible experiences, and teaching people how to deal more responsively to their environment.
Where is the best place to go foraging in Amsterdam?
Westerpark. There is so much to find there. We’ve even found wild asparagus; it was just growing next to the bike lane. They grow into such a beautiful plants, but of course, no one recognises them because in the supermarket they look so different in their packaging.
Is that something you hope to change 10 years from now?
For me it is very interesting to figure out what kind of relationship we can build with the nature around us. Since the invention of the train in 1850, our geographic location has no longer mattered, and this has created a big gap between the producer and the consumer. When we are on our bikes or when we walk around the park we have no idea what we are passing. I hope in 10 years time we will be harvesting in the city much more than we are today. I hope that people will have begun to embrace wild vegetation into city life, instead of looking at ‘the wild’ as something we need to protect. Because, what is our perception of nature? In the Netherlands it is all cultivated anyway!
What is a ‘native’ vegetable to the Netherlands?
It depends from what angle you look at it, and what you would classify as a vegetable! In the Netherlands we have many wild carrots. The actual vegetable is tasteless but the leaves are full of flavour and you can eat the flowers and the seeds. Ronald and I are interested in finding out how people once used nature thousands of years ago. We have learned so much about how the Romans were using the soil to harvest different grains, beans, and berries when they first came to settle in the Netherlands. Even back then they were finding it difficult to survive solely from their local landscapes, so they were trading salt with France and Italy in exchange for grapes.
Do you see yourselves as historians, chefs, scientists or something else?
We see de Onkruidenier as a new kind of profession. Sometimes we are chefs, sometimes we are historians, and sometime we are artists. We pick from different fields and we create something new from it. Like weeds, we grow in different directions!