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Want To Learn How To Forage? There's An Inclusive Workshop Right Here In LA

A hand holds a sprig with dark red round peppercorns and green leaves.
Peruvian peppercorns found along a fence at a BIPOC foraging event in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer
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If you were out and about on a recent Saturday in Silver Lake, you might have seen a small group of folks from all sorts of backgrounds gathered around the Micheltorena Heart Stairs, picking and tasting things like pink Peruvian peppercorns, bougainvillea bracts and geranium leaves.

They examined wild, prickly lettuce, soft, purple sage that looked like lavender, wood sorrel (aka sour grass) and loquats that hung over the sidewalk in a neighborhood near these famous steps.

They were learning how to forage.

A ‘safe space’ to forage

Jessica Lin is the founder of Beyond The Body LLC and leads interactive foraging workshops all around Los Angeles. Earlier this month, she led her very first workshop as part of a BIPOC Foraging Series she created for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Her goal: educating people in marginalized communities about what’s safe and healthy to eat in nature around urban environments in L.A.

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An Asian woman with a gray t-shirt, jeans, glasses, and dark green baseball cap stands near a colorful outdoor stair case pointing at plants on the left of frame while people look at her and face their backs to the camera.
Jessica Lin of Beyond the Body leading a BIPOC foraging event in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

For Lin, foraging is all about practicing self-care and sustainability. It’s a way of claiming land as a person of color and connecting with the earth. At her workshops, she gives homage to Indigenous communities, like the Tongva tribe, which lived on the land and cultivated the Greater Los Angeles Basin for thousands of years before Spanish settlers came and took it over.

At these events, Lin said she seeks to empower people with knowledge, insight, curiosity and magic about the land around them, while connecting with other people in L.A. and giving them a safe space to freely be themselves.

“I have the honor of being the cycle breaker in my family,” Lin said, adding that she’s often been the only person of color at foraging events she’s attended in the past. “Foraging is an extension of my self-care practice and community care practice.”

A hand reaches up to touch bright fusia bougainvillea flowers.
Participants gather bougainvillea leafs while at a BIPOC foraging event in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

Lin described herself as a Chinese American child of immigrants, queer and disabled. She is the first person in her family to be born in the U.S. and said that comes with intergenerational trauma. She said she would go to foraging spaces in Southern California and feel left out. That’s why she created these workshops.

“I looked around and all the classes are taught by old white guys,” Lin said. “So then I was like, all right I gotta represent.” Lin credits her friend Bat Vardeh, the founder of Foraging & Mushroom Hunting Women of SoCal as someone she learned from, as well as her mom, who practices traditional Chinese medicine.

Lin said she considers people’s disability needs as she plans her outings. She specializes in foraging edible plants, in particular those that are not available in stores or restaurants.

“I've seen spaces where I go, and I pay attention,” Lin said. “If there's only like one trans person there, or one Black person there, what does that say about the facilitators? And the space they're creating? Are they thinking about that? Are they trying to improve it? Oftentimes, they're not, you know? I think part of the purpose is to bring more awareness to the community that this exists, that it's a possibility, even if people want to do it themselves. It’s a small intimate space.”

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A close up of a Black woman wearing sunglasses holds a bright pink bougainvillea flower and takes a bite.
Reporter Aaricka Washington tastes a bougainvillea leaf while reporting on a BIPOC foraging event in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

Foraging in the city

Back in December, How To LA podcast host Brian De Los Santos went hiking and gathering with professional forager Jess Starwoood in the Santa Monica Mountains. In that podcast episode, we learned that foraging is a sustainable process that ties us back to earth.

And, as the popular “Black forager” Alexis Nikole Nelson has said, the art and practice of foraging has roots in Black and Indigenous food traditions from centuries ago. But over the years people were deterred, or even prohibited, from accessing.

Brian went out into the woods to forage and Nelson also typically does her work in the wild. Lin takes them smack dab in the middle of the city.

The lesson

Lin started off Saturday’s foraging lesson by laying out the plan for the afternoon. She introduced herself and asked about everyone else. She made sure she got people’s names right. The whole goal, Lin said, is to build rapport within that space so that everyone can feel comfortable with each other and let their defenses down.

“It's really important to have a safe space given that we have been historically marginalized,” Lin said. “We still are today. And a lot of times if you look at foraging events, both the instructors as well as the attendees are a very homogenous demographic. That comes partially from the history of this country. It stems from patriarchy.”

After everyone introduced themselves, put on sunscreen and bug repellent, and tried kumquats Lin had picked in El Segundo before the event, it was time to walk up the stairs to observe, discuss and eat some of the fruits, flowers and plants along the way.

As the group walked she told them about how she approaches the foraging: she doesn’t allow people to try anything she wouldn’t try.

(It’s really important to say right here that you shouldn’t go foraging on your own without some instruction on what to do and what NOT to eat. Some things growing in our natural environment could make you very sick.)

Saving money, building survival skills

An Asian woman with a gray t-shirt, jeans, glasses, and dark green baseball cap talks to a diverse group of people in shady area surrounded by foliage and bright pink bougainvillea plant.
Participants of a BIPOC foraging event gather to explore wildlife on a set of stairs in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

The participants in the workshop all had various reasons about why they came out that Saturday.

Alexis Sanchez said she wanted to take better care of her health and find ways to save money on food. “Groceries are extremely expensive right now,” Sanchez said. “Every time I go to the supermarket, I’m like…this is not okay.”

Christine Chen was there to learn some survival skills; something she realized she needed after being stuck in Texas during a freeze: “I realized how vulnerable we are when things like that shit goes the wrong way.”

Chen, who is new to L.A., also wanted to meet other people.

Close up of a yellow and black bee pollinating on a purple lavender flower.
A honey bee pollinates a lavender in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

Carole Jones is a Choctaw tribal citizen. She’s always had an interest in camping and homesteading. “I like the idea of urban foraging and learning more about what my ancestors did,” she shared.

Jada Taylor was also there to learn. She said she is a spiritual counselor and an activist who is starting up an apothecary and a community garden focused on holistic practices.

This was the first foraging event she’s been to.

“Things are available here, like you could be sitting right in front of the medicine that you need and you wouldn't know without classes or people like this,” she said. “Like I'm big on making teas and like all this stuff. So it's very important that I be able to collect and forage on my own.”

close up of two hands holding  a large green leaf.
A prickly lettuce leaf found during a BIPOC foraging event in Silver Lake.
(Brian Feinzimer

As a Black woman she said she doesn’t feel like the health industry in this country serves her in the way that it should. Therefore, it's important to her to understand what’s out there in terms of alternatives to traditional medicine or herbs.

“We have to be preventative and so we don’t even get to that point where we need Western medicine like that,” Taylor said. “ I'm not saying it's not useful, but we want to be preventative as much as possible, and keep our health in our own hands and our own control.”

Jessica Lin’s next BIPOC foraging event will be in Culver City on June 11. Check out her latest updates on her IG: jessbeyondthebody or follow her on Eventbrite.

A SHORT DISCLAIMER: Jessica Lin is an expert forager. Eating wild food can be dangerous, even deadly. Please don’t do it unless you know what you are looking for. Please do your research or reach out to people who are knowledgeable. 

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