From Rooftops And Abandoned Lots, An Urban Harvest

From rooftop apiaries in Paris to a vegetable-and-chicken farm in Philadelphia, agriculture has come to the city. Urban farmer Mary Seton Corboy and food writer Jennifer Cockrall-King talk about the future of food in the city. Plus, Tama Matsuoka Wong gives tasty tips for eating garden weeds.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. If you live in a big city, there's no shortage of places to buy groceries. You've got your supermarkets, your delis, your farmers markets, your sidewalk fruit stands. It seems like a limitless supply of food, right? But if you stop the delivery trucks, experts say a city's food would run out in just three days.

So to be on the safe side, why not grow more food in the city instead of trucking it in from someplace else, some other country, some other hemisphere? That's what's on my next guest's suggestion list in her new book "Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution."

And urban agriculture is not just about fruits and veggies. People are raising chickens and pigs in cities, too. They're farming fish. They're even making honey on rooftops. And if urban farming is not for you, how about eating the greens already growing wild, the weeds in your yard? That's right, try frying up some dandelion heads for a delicious snack, adding the leaves themselves to a salad.

One of my next guests is a professional forager, and she has some tips and recipes for us. So if you want to talk about urban gardening, about foraging for food, how to find food on your own, give us a call. Our number here's 1-800-989-8255. Maybe you've got some tips for us on some of your favorite foraged foods, or you've got a favorite urban farm that you're trying to set up. Maybe we'll give you some tips. 1-800-989-8255. Also, you can tweet us @scifri, and go to our website at sciencefriday.com and leave some messages there, also.

Jennifer Cockrall-King is a food journalist and author of "Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution." She joins us from the CBC in British Columbia. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

JENNIFER COCKRALL-KING: Hello.

FLATOW: Hey, there. Mary Seton Corboy is the cofounder and chief farm hand at Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia, and she joins us from WHYY in Philly. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

MARY SETON CORBOY: Thank you. Nice to be here.

FLATOW: Tama Matsuoka Wong is a forager, and she is a forager for the Restaurant Daniel in New York City. She's also author of the forthcoming book "Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmers' Market." She joins us from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Tama.

TAMA MATSUOKA WONG: Thank you for having me, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Mary, let's start with you. You started Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia 15 years ago. Wow. You've been at the game for a while.

CORBOY: I was seven when I started, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORBOY: There was no child labor laws for farms, at least not ones that I knew anything about.

FLATOW: I'll bet. Tell us what - what's the definition of an urban farm?

CORBOY: I would say set inside a city, and in our case, we happen to believe that it's an operation that is - that exists to grow product for sale or for trade, as opposed to for your own pleasure and consumption.

FLATOW: Do you have to go out and find the real estate, some abandoned lot, on your own?

CORBOY: Well, in Philadelphia, that wasn't terribly hard to do. We have about 30,000 abandoned lots in Philadelphia. But yes, we did have to go out and find a lot, and we found an old EPA cleanup site that fit the bill.

FLATOW: Did people think you were crazy at that time?

CORBOY: I'm pretty sure they still think I'm crazy, but yes. They particularly thought I was crazy then.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Jennifer Cockrall-King, your new book "Food and the City" surveys all sorts of urban farms and the history of the idea. How far back does this idea of urban agriculture go?

COCKRALL-KING: Well, originally, we moved to good farmland, and we built cities, basically, on top of good farmland. So, you know, growing food in cities and building cities on good farmland is as old as, you know, settling together. But, you know, we tend to think of urban agriculture - which is the new term for growing food and producing food in cities, you know, that's the new term.

But when you think back even two or three generations, we had vacant lot gardening, victory gardens, relief gardens in the Depression. So this is not a new concept.

FLATOW: You start your book in Paris, right, the birth of modern urban agriculture?

COCKRALL-KING: Yeah, Paris. It was interesting for me to find out that, you know, in medieval times in Paris, they developed gardens with a bunch of different techniques, I guess you'd call them. So we still call it French intensive agriculture, so using stone walls to enclose gardens, cold frames and raised-bed gardenings, and lots of compost. And all these things came together in Paris to create a really fantastic flourishing of urban agriculture in the mid-19th century.

FLATOW: Now, you are a forager, and you have an interesting history of how you got connected with the Daniel restaurant. Tell us how that happened, that you happened to be eating dinner there, and brought some stuff with you?

WONG: Yes. I guess I - I should say that I do have an obsession with plants, and so I'm always looking at plants and seeing what they are. And I was eating dinner there, and some friends that were taking us urged me to bring in some stuff that I knew was edible and that we'd been eating at home to the restaurant.

And so they decided to make a couple things on our - for our dinner, and that's - I went down to the kitchen, and they asked me what else I had in my meadow, and I said to the chef de cuisine, Eddie Leroux, what do you want? And he said: Bring me everything. So I started.

FLATOW: Wow. And the rest is history. How much stuff did he want after a while? Did you just bring bags and bags of stuff?

WONG: Well, in the beginning, it was really almost like a research project. So I would bring in tons and tons of samples of different things, maybe hundreds of plants and parts of plants at different times of the season. And so it was only after more than a year of going through everything that he decided which things he wanted to put on the menu and wanted in more volume.

FLATOW: Does foraging have seasons? Are we in a good foraging season now, the spring, early summer?

WONG: Yes, spring is probably one of the best times. But I pretty much forage about 10 months of the year in the mid-Atlantic region.

FLATOW: And what makes spring so good?

WONG: Spring is good because everything's new and green and tender and hasn't really gone to seed yet.

FLATOW: You mean weeds?

WONG: Yes, well...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: There are a lot of weeds in the spring. But you don't call them - we should not call them weeds if we're eating them, right?

WONG: Oh, I think we could call them weeds. I just think we have a bad - it's more our attitudes or our concept of what we've been thinking are weeds, are things that we don't like. But actually, weeds are just things that aren't growing where we want them to grow. So it could actually be a culinary delight from another country.

FLATOW: What would be the most common weed we could go out now and harvest from our backyard or...

WONG: Well, right now, I was actually - I actually went out this morning because I had to do a presentation to Slow Food after this. And so I went out to bring some samples from my little vegetable three-by-six-foot container vegetable bed. And I found in there chickweed, some wild mustards, ground ivy, lambs quarters, Asiatic day flower, wild garlic and dead nettle.

FLATOW: Wow.

WONG: So - and my peas have not come up yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: This is all before the quote-unquote "conventional" veggies come up.

WONG: So I - yeah. I think anybody could find things in just a - you know, whether it's a container or a small planter, even.

FLATOW: How about dandelions?

WONG: Actually, I do still have a few dandelions, although it's getting towards the end, with the hot...

FLATOW: Tell us about that. You have to know how to - when to harvest a dandelion, right?

WONG: Yes. So the other thing I would say is that just because something is edible doesn't mean it's going to taste good, that we're not - that when we're talking about urban agriculture, at this point I don't think we're trying to talk about survival food, or we're talking about Space Shuttle-type food. So you really want to pick the things that taste good and also the right ways to prepare them.

And that's why I really worked with a chef who could help that. So with dandelions, I would say the leaves are really great before the plant flowers. And you would probably want to have it in some kind of a vinaigrette, because the vinegar cuts any kind of bitterness or bite, or with a fatty meat.

FLATOW: Now, Mary, when you set up an urban farm, do the neighbors like you?

CORBOY: Yes and no, I would have to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORBOY: I'd like to think, in our neighborhood, they like me.

FLATOW: Did you have to get them to have - you've become an acquired taste, so to speak.

CORBOY: Kind of like dandelion weeds, yes. Yes, when we started out, they just really - they just didn't get what we were doing. So I - certainly, when I talk to people who were interested in starting urban farms, I'd say that you really - not everybody wants an urban farm in their community, and you really have to do a fair amount of work to work with the community and get community buy-in, because you probably - particularly if you're in a distressed neighborhood or something, your farm's not going to last very long if there are neighbors that don't like you.

FLATOW: You could put it...

CORBOY: There's many things one can do to disturb the life of a farm.

FLATOW: I'll bet. And your farm is in a low-income community in Philly. Can you get local fooderies to buy from your urban farm?

CORBOY: We started out selling exclusively to restaurants - ironically, mesclun salad greens 15 years ago, which were considered weeds. So it's all a matter of the packaging, I guess. Now they're sort of ubiquitous, and we've gone on to do other things. But the people in our immediate neighborhood, I would say, are probably not as interested.

There's not as much buy-in to the buy-local or organic movement as there are in other neighborhoods. It's an economic indicator, certainly, and it's also a matter of what their particular food history is.

FLATOW: Do you have to get special zoning in cities so you can - you know, I know there are a lot of pocket parks that were going bad in New York for a while, and people tried to turn them into little farms or little gardens and had trouble doing it.

CORBOY: Well, you do. And every city is very different, and there are some cities - I think in Seattle, they had it be year of the urban farm. In Philadelphia, they're rewriting the zoning code, and they are including - for the first time in the modernist revision of the zoning code - they are including urban agriculture. So you can have the kind of outbuildings that are generally associated with having a farm.

But not every place is going to want one. As I said, two years ago, the city of Philadelphia itself tried to start an urban farm project on land that it owned, and the neighborhood resoundly rejected it. And, as a matter of fact, they had their city councilmen fight it and have legislation that said that you couldn't have any farms there.

So you definitely have to have zoning. You have to have - you should have licenses. You have to have permits. You have to have insurance. It's not very different from having any other business, quite honestly.

FLATOW: We're going to take a break and take all your calls about foraging and urban farming with Jennifer Cockrall-King, Mary Seton Corboy and Tama Matsuoka Wong. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. You can tweet us @scifri, S-C-I-F-R-I. Don't go away. We'll be right back with some suggestions and even recipes for what to do with some stuff you can forage. Stay with us.

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FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

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FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about urban agriculture and foraging for veggies and wild things in your own backyard, your own neighborhood. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to the phones. Tim in Portland, Oregon. Hi, Tim.

TIM: Hi there, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi there. Go ahead.

TIM: My comment is regarding the - using these rooftop systems in inner-city applications and also where there are large industrial buildings. And I've been reading also about not just growing vegetables but also using them as wildlife habitats for wild birds and animals. And I think that's really good for the environment, I really applaud that, but it seems like it's in conflict with the pushes for solar energy and solar panels in these same locations.

And from a benefit-to-man point of view, I'm curious which would win out over that.

FLATOW: All right, thanks for your question, good question. Jennifer, you want to take that on?

COCKRALL-KING: Sure. Well, you know, we - you have solar panels to create energy, and you just have to ask why you're creating this energy. If you've got a rooftop garden that's mitigating the heat loss from your building, or it's, you know, saving you from running your air conditioner during the summer, you're definitely ahead of the game because you actually have food production as a byproduct as well, with a rooftop garden.

And, you know, if you're providing a habitat for things like urban bees, you're doing a great service to your food ecosystem. One mouthful in three in our diets is directly or indirectly benefitting from honeybee pollination. So, you know, you think about it as a global picture and you ask yourself, well, why do we need this solar energy, what, you know, what are we using this energy production for. If we can actually just cut our energy consumption, you're ahead of the game with some fresh veggies.

FLATOW: In your book, you write about a place many people might think of as a hotbed of urban agriculture, and that is Cuba.

COCKRALL-KING: Yeah, Cuba went through an energy shock in the 1990s where they had to figure out how to feed 11 million people with no fuel to run tractors for conventional agriculture, no fuel to transport the food into cities, where - Cuba is very similar to North America: 80 percent of the people actually live in cities.

And so they had to figure out a distribution system, and one thing about urban agriculture, we talk about how are we going to feed our global population of seven billion people and counting - we actually over-produce food right now anyways. It's - a lot of the problems with food security is a distribution problem.

If you can move the food production into cities, you're actually solving that distribution problem right away, where you don't have to transport that food quite so far. So Cuba, they went through a very serious and sustained energy shock, and the way that they kept, you know, the population of Cuba from starvation was to build just hundreds and hundreds of urban farms right in cities.

And these are about, you know, two to three-acre farms, and they're almost like our little neighborhood grocery stores. And so instead of a grocery store, there's an urban farm within a neighborhood, and on your way home from work, you just pop into the kiosk and see what 10 or 12 vegetables are available for you that day, and you carry on.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's go to the phones, to Cynthia(ph) in Denver. Hi, Cynthia.

CYNTHIA: Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

CYNTHIA: I've always loved the idea of urban gardening. I have my little herbs in the window sill, which is all I can do in my apartment. But I have these two concerns kind of in the back of my mind when I think about it, both of them having to do with the environment of the city. Basically, how does the city pollution affect the soil and the air that is getting into this food?

And then also weather. You know, some places aren't so sunny or don't have as much access to water, like, you know, Arizona. And I know that both of those things could maybe create another level of problems if it goes into a bigger scale. You know, if you've got this vision of, as I do, you know, seeing like urban gardens, you know, in every neighborhood, can we actually do that with the city environment?

FLATOW: Good questions. Let me ask Mary to react. Mary Seton Corboy?

CORBOY: Well, I would say in answer to the question about water, one of the things that we have looked into, that Greensgrow's been engaged in for many, many years, is growing hydroponically, which is a water system that is a re-circulating system. So you're actually using very little water to grow your plants. And that works and is very much a - no pun intended - growing concern in places like Arizona.

As far as the pollution issue, that is something that certainly is a top priority both in terms of capillary uptake, particularly in old cities that may have had industrial pasts, as Philadelphia and most of the cities in the Northeast Corridor, and also in terms of airborne particulate matter. So you definitely have to keep those things in consideration.

But I have to say you have to keep those things in consideration in a rural environment also, where you have drift from the farmer next door who may be using pesticides. You have - we all have 95 corridors running right through, interstate corridors running right through rural areas. And so the EPA has done a fair amount of work as regards to looking at the issue of soil contamination and previous industrial reuse and what the standards should and could be.

As a concern, we have always looked at that issue, and we have always tested for that issue, both from the top and the bottom of the plant. But I think that to say that you're not going to grow just because there's no sun, or not as many moles of light of day as you might like or that the plants might prefer or because of the water issue, those things can be mitigated by - there are tremendous advances in growing and particularly in controlled environment agriculture.

And that may very well be the future of what happens in cities, is that we're not going to take the exact replication of rural farms. We're going to be inventing new ways to farm in cities. That's where the advantages can come in.

FLATOW: Tama, in your book, "Foraged Flavor," you have 88 recipes. We have a couple of those recipes up on our website at sciencefriday.com, and one in particular, chickweed crostini, I just had a harvest of chickweed on my lawn.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WONG: I know. The chickweed is having a huge year this year. It's supposed to be finished by now, but because, I don't know, the weather this spring was very strange, and it's just come back with a huge resurgence. And...

FLATOW: Well, you say to harvest and eat it. You have chickweed crostini on our website. What is that?

WONG: Yes, well, so - I also like to say I never have to water my chickweed ever. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WONG: But...

FLATOW: The thought of me eating chickweed is not...

WONG: Yes, yes, and so - you know, people come, and they say - and actually this is why we try to make it and do little demos because people are so surprised at how amazing it tastes. And I think one of the problems that I think is because it doesn't really taste that good raw, at least from our point of view, meaning the chef, myself, my family. It kind of just tastes like grass if you eat it raw.

And sometimes you look at these books that may say, you know, put it in a salad, and we think it just tastes like grass in a salad. So if you cook it, not too long but cook it, you know, sort of wilted, and then you sort of are balancing it with other things, like the crostini is just like - you know, on top of bread, with a little bit of cheese and onions, and then all the flavors kind of balance each other, and the chickweed flavor of that green and freshness is just sort of brought out by everything else. And then it's fantastic.

FLATOW: (Unintelligible) a bumper crop this year. 1-800...

WONG: Yeah, it is a bumper crop.

FLATOW: It's amazing. 1-800-989-8255. Mark in Clover, South Carolina. Nice name for a city today.

MARK: I appreciate you guys taking my call. I'm a former homeless advocate, or I'm really still a homeless advocate. I'm formerly homeless. And I had - I met a guy at a motel one time who had a set of flashcards, it was all about edible plants. And I wondered if any of the panelists there, anybody had given any thought to providing the educational materials to homeless shelters and that sort of thing. Can we educate homeless people so that they can be fed, so they don't have to worry about whether they can get their next meal from the Salvation Army or whatnot?

FLATOW: Good question, Mark. Now, let me get an answer for you. Anybody want to jump in? Tama...

WONG: I can - I mean, I guess I could say that, you know, I'm not really - I think it depends on where the shelter is and what the program is. But I definitely think there could be workshops, and you could bring things. But I think you would want to be, you know, careful about identification and other things. You wouldn't just want to hand them a bunch of flashcards, I would think.

COCKRALL-KING: Yeah, I wouldn't want people to be...

CORBOY: And it's not going out and picking mushrooms and thinking that they're all a good idea.

FLATOW: Alright.

MARK: Certainly I understand that. I appreciate that, folks.

FLATOW: Thanks, Mark.

WONG: And I definitely think a supervised program could be something you could do.

COCKRALL-KING: And SNAP recipients can - they can buy seeds for gardens, for community gardens. So you can use your SNAP food stamps, essentially, to buy vegetable seeds.

FLATOW: Is there - could there be jobs for people who are out of work, you know, collecting and foraging for restaurants? (unintelligible)

WONG: Yes. I...

FLATOW: You're looking for people?

CORBOY: The foragers I know are...

WONG: Yes, I am.

CORBOY: ...usually out of(ph) work.

WONG: I am looking for some, so, yeah.

COCKRALL-KING: There's a very interesting community garden - or not a community garden, but a commercial garden in Vancouver on the Downtown Eastside, which is known as Canada's poorest postal code, zip code. And it - it's a commercial garden that teaches people from the Downtown Eastside how to grow, how to market, how to retail, do accounting. And, you know, we talk about, you know, re-skilling people and farming in cities.

You've got a labor force that's available. And so the SOLEFood Farm, actually, is a great training ground for all sorts of things, like farming and accounting and marketing and retailing for people who need assistance to get back into the workforce. So it's - community gardens and commercial farms in cities are very effective, because that's where you generally have more labor force available for agriculture.

FLATOW: Jason Calhoun(ph) tweets a message, and something I've wanted to know myself. He says: My eight-year-old asks if we can eat the wild raspberry, strawberries growing in the backyard.

WONG: The wild raspberries. OK. So you mean the strawberries or raspberries?

FLATOW: Either one. Raspberries or strawberries that you see growing.

WONG: OK. So raspberries - as long as, you know, they're berries and they've got lots and lots of those tiny, little globules, it's not one big glop, those are edible. And if it's - if your eight-year-old has a question, they can post it to our website with a photo. The strawberries are pretty much easy to tell, identify, also. But I don't find the ones that are growing wild around mid-Atlantic that are not alpine strawberries, we don't find the flavor to be very good.

CORBOY: Yeah. They're kind of bland.

WONG: Right. Yeah.

CORBOY: Yeah. Actually kind of bitter.

WONG: But if they have a question, they can - especially eight-year-olds, I think, are great. They're naturals at - in the field. And if she's...

FLATOW: What's the website?

WONG: Meadowsandmore.com. You can post a photo, and we have a botanical community that will answer.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's go to Gabe in Portland. Hi, Gabe.

GABE: Hi. Thanks for having me on. Longtime listener. I'm a student at Portland State, and at that school we do a lot of study in urban agriculture. And it dawned on me that there's really not a whole lot of education provided for children in the public school system as far as growing your own fruits and veggies. You know, I was taught mathematics and literature and things like that, but I have no idea how to grow my own fruits and vegetables.

So when we're talking about how to provide a workforce or anything like that, people out of work, it helps if they're already trained and educated. But I was wondering if there's any movement afoot at the federal level or at any state level to provide legislation and funding so that our public schools can start teaching children how to garden.

FLATOW: Hmm. Mary Seton Corboy?

CORBOY: Well, I think this has been - certainly Alice Waters and Berkeley school projects have been in or no longer consider the cutting edge. It's been in - it's been around for quite some time. More and more schools, we find, have adopted some kind of growing programs. I believe in Pennsylvania, you may have to take a class in agriculture to graduate. We're basically still an agricultural state.

So I think that it's probably something that a lot of places would like to have programs in. I would also imagine that it's also - it's going to be something - it'll be one of the first things to be cut because...

FLATOW: Yeah.

CORBOY: ...it's considered sort of a fringe activity...

FLATOW: Just like music.

CORBOY: ...as opposed to whatever is considered the major thing that you're supposed to be learning in school today. But if I can go back to...

FLATOW: I remind everybody that this is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. And then you can go ahead now. I'm sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.

CORBOY: Oh, I just wanted to say, going back to this issue, there are an awful lot of urban farms that are being used for re-skill, retraining, re-entry programs. And I think that it's very valuable and it's valuable work. We do have to - people who are interested in getting into urban agriculture do have to realize that they're going to have to make a distinction. Urban agriculture, like anything, can't be the answer to everything. And it's very hard to...

FLATOW: Well, maybe you could - let me go to this question, because we're running out of time. Maybe you can answer...

CORBOY: OK.

FLATOW: ...that question from Shawn(ph) in Cincinnati. Hi, Shawn.

SHAWN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi, there.

SHAWN: Hey. My question: What is the point?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: All right. It's succinct and to the point.

CORBOY: Well, I - yeah. I needed a job. That was my point. So...

SHAWN: That's what I'm wondering.

CORBOY: Yeah. Well, it's my job. It's what I do. For us, it's a commercial interest...

SHAWN: No. Like what's the point for the rest of us? You know what I mean? I mean, it just seems to me - that seems to make sense on paper. Lower our overall energy consumption, as opposed to finding more ways to consume energy. But is that realistic? I mean...

FLATOW: Well, Shawn, what's the point of gardening?

SHAWN: What's the point of gardening? Well, actually - when did they ever teach gardening in schools? That's what I want to know. I just...

FLATOW: Yeah. That's what our last caller wanted to know. Thanks for the question. I mean, he is trying to say, I guess, something about: What is the point of all of this?

CORBOY: Well, I think the question, the bigger question is whether or not - you know, if we had a better food system, would urban agriculture be deemed necessary now? And urban agriculture is, for a lot of people, an answer to a food system, a large food system that has failed, where the urban consumer doesn't have a lot of say in what's produced and how it's produced, where the urban demographic has not necessarily paid attention to.

It's a green mechanism for cities. There's a myriad number of reasons why you would want to have urban agriculture. For us, as I say, it's a commercial concern. We have 20 employees and sales of over a million dollars a year. So that's the reason for it for us. It's about job creation. It's about economic development. And it's about developing relationships with not just us, but developing relationships with our rural farming families and bringing that food into the city.

FLATOW: All right. We're talking with - I got to interrupt because we have to go to a break. Talking with Jennifer Cockrall-King, food journalist and author of "Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution," Mary Seton Corboy, co-founder and chief farmhand at Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia. Tama Matsuoka Wong is a forager for the Restaurant Daniel in New York, author of the forthcoming book "Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer's Market."

We're going to take a break, come back and talk lots more about food and urban farming. Flora Lichtman's going to be here with a little video of our own little search, foraging for food in the park. So stay with us. We'll be right back after this break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

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FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking about urban farming, foraging for food with Jennifer Cockrall-King, Mary Seton Corboy, Tama Matsuoka Wong. Our number: 1-800-989-8255. A few more minutes to go. For urban farmers, Mary, if - or let me ask Jennifer. Jennifer, if you wanted to start your urban farm, you got to have a thick skin, it sounds like.

COCKRALL-KING: Yeah. And it's a lot of hard work, too. I mean, sustainable living is about sweat equity, a lot of the time. So it's civically demanding, as Mary can probably tell you. So you have to have a thick skin. You have to find out if your city allows certain types of urban agriculture activities where you live. And then you have to get to work. And a lot of people will say to you: What's the point of it? But my question to them would be: Do you eat? How often do you eat?

It's a necessity of life to eat. And if we have, you know, a three-day supply of food within a modern city only, and there's a problem, everybody gets pretty hungry at the end of the third day. So that, to me, is the point. It's a little bit of self-reliance and resilience and not depending on these supply lines to, you know, continually resupply our grocery stores, because what happens if they don't?

FLATOW: Tama, do you think everybody can do what you did and go to their local higher - maybe higher-end restaurant with a bag of foraged stuff and say, would you like more of this, it tastes good, you know, that sort of thing?

WONG: No. I think it was just fate. I was very lucky. And also, I'd say that even if you say you're going to do that, it was a huge amount of work, like, to learn everything and get where we are. So hopefully people can have the result of our efforts, because it was a huge amount of work, in the end.

FLATOW: And, Mary Seton Corboy, do you think, you know, Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia, you say it's a million - it grosses a million bucks and employs a lot of people, suggest that for other people?

CORBOY: With a big vat of sunscreen, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORBOY: A big vat of sunscreen.

FLATOW: What about mosquitoes, how do you take care of them?

CORBOY: That's not so much a problem at our particular site, but just about everything else is, so...

FLATOW: All right.

CORBOY: ...don't wish anything on me, Ira.

FLATOW: I'm not. I'm only wishing you the greenest and the rainiest of seasons, because we had a drought, as I'm sure you did, too. And we're all hoping to be able to eat chickweed next year...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: ...if I don't mow it all down, because I now learned something new. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today. Tama Matsuoka Wong is a forager for...

WONG: Thank you.

FLATOW: ...a restaurant, Daniel, in New York and author of the forthcoming book "Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer's Market." It's got 88 recipes. We have a couple of those recipes up on our website at sciencefriday.com, if you'd like to see how to make chickweed into a delicious salad. Mary Seton Corboy is a co-founder and chief farmhand at Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia and Jennifer Cockrall-King, a food journalist and author of "Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution." Thanks for being with us all today.

CORBOY: Thank you.

WONG: Thank you.

COCKRALL-KING: Thank you, Ira.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: We're not done with foraging for food, because for dessert...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Flora Lichtman is here, and she's got a - you want a lesson on how to forage for food in the most unusual place, Flora has got it this week, right?

LICHTMAN: Yes. We looked at foraging in New York. I mean, everyone knows New York is a place where you can find food, right? But you can also find food in New York, if you know what I mean.

FLATOW: Ooh, nice. That's very nice.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: This is radio. Anyway, so we looked at a few different foragers, sort of case studies in foraging. And you can find mushrooms in the park, and we talk about that, and sea rockets at the beach, which is in the mustard family...

FLATOW: Sea rockets?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Punch up your sandwich...

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: ...when you're picnicking. One unusual foraging case study was Ari Glogauer(ph). He's looking for snails in his backyard, escargot.

FLATOW: Escargot. (unintelligible).

LICHTMAN: Local (unintelligible).

FLATOW: No. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: And the stars of our video this week really are Anya Pozdeeva and Christopher Toole, and their vertically integrated farms. And they have this interesting story. They were in finance, and traded their jobs for a new mission: They want to turn New York into a food production center, basically, through a whole bunch of different means. So they're growing tilapia at a community center in the Bronx and in their apartment, I should also say...

FLATOW: There have fish in their apartment?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: ...and in other people's apartments. We visited another apartment in the Bronx and seen some tilapia. They're foragers. In fact, one of their recipes is garlic mustard, which you can find - it's an invasive. It's all over. Check out the video. You can see what it looks like. You can turn it into pesto, it turns out.

FLATOW: Is that right?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It was - I had it raw on our shoot.

It was actually pretty good.

FLATOW: Yeah. And what's also interesting is that they have gone to the parks here in New York. And it's sort of like Johnny Appleseed, Johnny something.

LICHTMAN: Johnny...

FLATOW: Johnny planter.

LICHTMAN: Johnny food farmer in the city.

FLATOW: Food farmer. It is his secret that - well, not anymore. You've got them on video planting in the park system here.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. This was - this idea really captured my imagination. The idea is to turn New York City's parks sort of clandestinely into edible forests, food forests. So we were in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and if you walked through with Anya and Christopher, they can show you their secret spots where they've planted blueberry bushes and raspberry bushes. And when I was there with them, they were sort of turning a hill that was a little bit hard to get to - it was sort of a treacherous shoot - into a lavender grove, which was really neat. And so I asked, you know, the first question that came to my mind was like, aren't you gonna get in trouble?

FLATOW: Sure, sure.

LICHTMAN: What will the parks say about this?

FLATOW: You see a cop with his baton.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: And they said that...

FLATOW: So you're planting food here? Yeah, right. We've heard it all, you know.

LICHTMAN: But their point of view is that it's a public park, and they've talked to the park rangers. And they said, you know, if you saw a pumpkin growing, would you smash it? And, of course, the park ranger said, no, you know, we wouldn't do that. So their idea is your adding biodiversity to the park and especially if you plant local things that are endemic, like a blueberry bush, you know, what's the harm done?

FLATOW: What's the harm, yeah.

LICHTMAN: It was an interesting idea.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: And if you go to Van Cortlandt Park, you might be able to score some berries.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: But, you know, this stuff grows wild in all the different parks, right?

LICHTMAN: That's right.

FLATOW: And these people - I'm sure people like them must be spread out all over the country.

LICHTMAN: I think so. I wonder if this is a sort of secret underground - anyway, that's their goal.

FLATOW: That's their goal.

LICHTMAN: And, you know, they also sort of give foraging tips. And they wouldn't say just go pick anything you see. You know, they're experts.

FLATOW: Right, right. As our food people said before...

LICHTMAN: That's right.

FLATOW: ...you have to know what a raspberry really looks like.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. This is not — SCIENCE FRIDAY is not encouraging people to just go out and just start like filling a bag.

FLATOW: Stay away from those mushrooms...

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: ...unless, you know, these are professionals, you know.

LICHTMAN: That's right. They - people are professionals. And when I was walking around with Anya, you know, she just knew - she had a very deep knowledge of the plants and how to prepare them. So, you know, Artemisia, you know, you might see it. You don't want to eat it raw. You want to turn it into a tea, but I didn't know that until I had an expert with me to explain.

FLATOW: Yeah. So Flora went up there to Vancouver Park and...

LICHTMAN: Van Cortlandt.

FLATOW: Excuse me, I said Vancouver. We're talking about Vancouver all day today but...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, yeah.

FLATOW: ...Van Cortlandt Park. And you took your video camera, and they showed you the stuff that they were collecting, but it's not a lesson in indentifying the plant. It's a lesson in what you can do with the park.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: So if you really want to indentify the stuff, you need a real manual, you need to know what you're doing.

LICHTMAN: Go get a field guide, find someone who knows.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. But you can see this is sort of how people who are foraging, you know, how they're doing it.

FLATOW: All right. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: It's up there in our website as sciencefriday.com. It's a great little video and if you're into it, this is really something you might want to do.

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