How to Find Dinner in the Woods

alan teaching

Long Island Pulse
October 16, 2015

Weaving through the maze of trails in Sunken Meadow Park, Steve Brill pauses and pulls at a plant that is dark green, heart-shaped with scallop-edged leaves.

“Garlic mustard,” he said. “I have to keep my eyes open.”

Brill, also known as Wildman Steve, is a forager. He spends his days in various parts of the tri-state area searching for edible weeds, herbs and bushes. He’s one of a growing number of foragers in the United States that find their own food, sometimes selling it to local restaurants or teaching foodies about the edible plants…

There is, after all, no college degree in foraging. Brill and Asheville, North Carolina forager Alan Muskat both sort of fell into it.

“In college, I hiked, cooked and discovered Taoism,” Muskat said. “All three were about being natural and they added up to wild food. It was a big stretch. I’m from a suburban area, went to school in New Jersey and was pretty much on the corporate track, but after college I didn’t want to be part of the system and going back to the land was a way to be myself. It appeals to me, it’s relaxing and it’s a sense of home when you go into the woods.”

About half of Muskat’s diet he sources from wild food. Muskat has run No Taste Like Home in Asheville, North Carolina for 20 years, leading tours into the woodlands gathering wild mushrooms, berries, flowers, fruits, seeds, nuts, roots and shoots, and then local restaurants turn it into “find dining.” His business has grown in recent years to include hosting wild food banquets and leading off the eaten path excursions and corporate team-building retreats.

“It’s grown tremendously more popular,” Muskat said. “Starting in 2008, I think with the crash, economic reasons made people want free food. It’s also more sustainable: wild food is far better for the planet and the people.”

The growth of his business continues. Muskat said his business has doubled and maybe even tripled in the last year.

“I think Asheville has a long history of local food interest, but forage-to-table is still pretty new. I’ve taken a lot of the chefs out foraging,” Muskat said.

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