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Urban foraging book gives new meaning to ‘street food’

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Ava Chin is a hunter-gatherer of the urban variety.

Her upcoming memoir “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” talks about how she started her serious foraging habit to take her mind off a hard breakup, channelling her energy into learning about plants and how to find wild edible weeds in the most unlikely of places.

Chin grew up in Flushing Queens, where her first foraging discovery as a young child was field garlic which reminded her of the scallions and the Chinese chives that her grandfather used to cook with.

“My mother wouldn’t want me to eat it but I would always eat it,” said Chin.

The former Park Sloper began her Brooklyn-based urban foraging in Clinton Hill and Park Slope, though initially she didn’t think of the area as a place where nature thrived.

“I was a little nervous when I first started out, but as I started forging I realized there were actually plenty of wild edibles to find,” said Chin who still forages in the area.

She soon started writing about foraging for a local section of the New York Times focused on Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Park, and after a year of writing about that area, Chin expanded her range into a citywide column called “Urban Forager.”

If she had to pick one place in Brooklyn, Chin said her favorite place to forage is Prospect Park.

“There are so many great areas that are a little more wooded and secluded,” Chin said.

Prospect Park’s terrain offers a forager an escape from the urban pollution afflicting much of the borough, according to Chin, with many areas that are more elevated and further away from the sources of pollution.

“There aren’t a lot of cars that necessarily go through there, and there are certain hours of the day that cars don’t drive through the park,” said Chin. “Your chances of finding more pristine wild edibles are grander.”

Prospect Park has some of the city’s best wild edibles, according to Chin, such as mulberries, mushrooms and day lilies to name a few. The untrained eye may not notice, but these foraging delicacies flourish throughout the park’s grounds, from just off of the jogging paths to the edges of reservoirs.

Outside of the parks and around the neighborhood, Chin practices and teaches what she calls “guerrilla foraging” or “street foraging” — trolling the sidewalk tree planters and cracks in the pavement for natural noshes. But on these jaunts, Chin isn’t actually collecting things to eat, but rather just seeing what edibles are growing from block to block.

“It’s to kind of sharpen my foraging skills,” she said.

Chin shows other people how to do this to training their forager eyes for use in less grimy climes. “If they find themselves in an area that’s a little bit more rural or a little further away from pollution they’ll already be trained to see it,” said Chin.

Chin’s memoir “Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” comes out this month. She will be doing a reading at the Brooklyn Public Library on May 18th.

“Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal” talk at the Central Library [10 Grand Army Plaza between Flatbush Ave. and Eastern Pkwy in Park Slope, (718) 230–2100, www.bklynlibrary.org]. May 18 at 1:30pm. Free.

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