Small bursts of red and orange set among a smattering of tiny textured leaves, wild currants in Colorado are ripening this time of year.
To search for currants, I got up early on a Saturday and went to one of my favorite local parks, nestled in a neighborhood north of downtown Colorado Springs. Sure enough, this year’s bounty was ready to eat. I began to fill my small bucket, sampling a few to enjoy their fresh, tart flavor.
Learning about wild, edible plants fits with my community’s interest in local food. It’s a natural step from paying attention to where food comes from to considering how our food systems do or don’t overlap with local ecology.
These wild currants were fresh off the bush, filled with vitamins and enzymes. No pesticides had been sprayed on them. I could have gone to the store for red currants. I recently found some, packaged in plastic clamshells—a hand full of berries for $5—and they came from, not Colorado, but Oregon.
To step away—even for just a few hours—from an industrial agricultural system that is among the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, gave me a new perspective on the choices we have in how we feed ourselves.
Incorporating local ecology into our urban foodscapes by planting wild foods—like currants—in our yards and community gardens can connect us to place and help ensure we don’t overharvest our parks.
As I was leaving the park, I heard a woman call to me, “Are those berries?”
I told her they were currants, and she responded enthusiastically: “Oh, are those the red ones? We were wondering if you could eat them.” She and the gentleman with her each tasted one. Their eyes lit up, and he began to tell me about how his mother used to pick wild gooseberries. Feeling their excitement and newfound connection to this local park, I wondered whether people might have a greater desire to protect the place we live, after having tasted its wild flavors and marveled at its ability to nourish us.