How to forage for your food
Jonmar van Vlijman & Ronald Boer, De Onkruidenier
How did your story begin?
Our fascination with plants and weeds began four years ago. I had studied landscape architecture and was taught how to deal with plants in a very practical way. But one day, as we were packing our belongings to move house, 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 many years before to go foraging for food to feed my father and his siblings. The book enabled us to look at plants in a completely different way. It 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 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 and asked if we could share our knowledge with them. So we began catering with weeds. It was only at that moment that we realised we had something special. 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. It was the first place we visited after I found my Grandmother’s book. 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 down the line 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 find it very interesting to research into 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!
Tell us about the workshop you are running at the Greenhouse Festival next week.
For us, it is so exciting that we’ll be returning to Westerpark. It was in this park that our journey began, and we know it so well. We’ll be taking people on an expedition through the park to forage for plants, and we’ll explain how to recognise the plants you might typically turn a blind eye on. Then, we will form a production line back at our workstation to prepare some snacks from our findings.