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The Forager’s Tale

Nov 1, 2012

by Danielle Tsi

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Kevin Feinstein goes by a number of different titles: author, forager and educator, among others. But when you get to know him, you realize that these are just different facets of a person acutely aware of modern civilization’s impact on the environment, who happens to be very concerned about what that means for our survival.

Determined to do his part to reinstate what he believes as the “Right Relationship” with the earth, Kevin began researching the nutritional benefits of eating readily available wild foods in his environment. As his interest grew, so did his knowledge, and before long, he was giving classes on wild edibles in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s now the author of two books, runs a school gardening program in Lafayette and manages a busy roster of wild food and mushroom walks in and around the Bay Area.

Kevin leading a class at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park

“I started getting interested in foraging and sustainable agriculture in 1998-1999, after taking a real hard look at the way the food system is structured today and realizing how dysfunctional and unsustainable it is,” he explains. “We expend so many calories to produce food that isn’t entirely nutritious for us (such as genetically-modified foods), while intoxicating the earth with chemicals and depleting it of its diversity. And on the other hand, we have an abundance of nutritionally-dense foods available out in the wild all around us that we’re just letting go to waste.”

“Widespread interest in foraging really took off in 2008, around the time I started partnering with Forage SF to conduct these walks. Food items like nettles and chanterelle mushrooms started appearing on more restaurant menus and it became trendy. My early students were mostly nutritionists and naturalists interested in understanding the different uses for wild herbs. These days, the majority of the class is comprised of foodies and survivalists. There’s almost always one student who’s taking the class so as to survive a zombie apocalypse,” he quipped.

Flowers of the Ceanothus plant which transform into a natural soap when mixed with water.

On a picturesque Saturday morning, I joined Kevin for one of his walks at Buena Vista Park in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. A modest group of ten gathered for his “edible wild plant identification walk” (an important distinction, since foraging is still illegal in many urban areas). We learned, for example, that Yarrow, with its stimulating and healing properties, used to be a key ingredient in beers, before hops took its place, and that all grass is edible and nutritious. Nasturtium flowers, widely available in San Francisco, add a spicy kick to salads, while the flower petals of the Feijoa plant are just as juicy and sweet as its fruit. Kevin also introduced us to the Ceanothus shrub, whose flowers, when crushed in the hand with water, turn into a natural soap, and whose leaves can be dried and brewed for a caffeine-free herbal tea.

Kevin’s reasons for foraging stem from his concern for the planet. He explains, “I’m not into this for the shock factor, to be able to say, ‘Hey, look at me! I’m eating something exotic!’. No, I’m very concerned about eating a healthy natural diet, and the environmental benefits of eating locally foraged and sustainably-grown food. Wild foods are better for us and better for the planet. This motivates me more than the pursuit of gourmet flavors.”

Nasturtium flowers are abundant in San Francisco and are a common addition to salads.

We covered a mere half-mile of the park’s eastern slope in two hours, but the leisurely pace and care with which we examined each specimen, shrub and tree was enough to change the way I look at the plants in my environment. Instead of being mere ornaments in the landscape, they are now potential ingredients, each of them a gateway to new flavors and textures. All I need is a pair of good shears and a pretty satchel.

All photos by Danielle Tsi.

3 Featured Comments

  • raeine

    Lisa Schramek from raeine said 4 years ago Featured

    Southeast Alaska is full of amazing wild edible plant species in addition to the salad (lettuce, nasturtiums, etc.) I plant in the spring. Gathering has always been an important part of our lifestyle, but I continue to learn about more edibles. Wild lowbush cranberry sauce is a staple Thanksgiving treat. Gathering the elusive berry is fun involving hip boots, concentration, and a love of cool misty weather!

  • localevintage

    localevintage from localevintage said 4 years ago Featured

    This article makes me happy! Back in the mid-late 90's I took many herbology classes with Jeanine Pollack in Santa Cruz, CA. I still use that knowledge today when hiking with my friends here in Oregon. Of course you must be careful where you harvest your plants from, but having more knowledge about which plants are edible and their different properties makes for fun hiking conversations as well. Many times the plant that you think is a weed in your yard is actually an edible or medicinal plant. Its great to know these things and put those plants to use in your meals or medicine cabinet. Thank you Etsy for sharing this article.

  • lucysangster

    Lucy Sangster from UseOrOrnament said 4 years ago Featured

    My parents took me foraging when I was little, I love coming back from a walk with something to eat! Here in Yorkshire, one of the great sights of late summer is seeing whole families picking billberries (the UK native blueberry) on the edge of the moor in Otley and Ilkley. My favourite find was a puffball - a mushroom the size of a football - which got fried in garlic butter with the leftovers dried into a rich powder that I add to risottos. Elders and brambles make great jam, sorbets and pies too. Yum yum!

76 comments

  • ArtDecoDame

    Desiree from ArtDecoDame said 4 years ago

    Interesting read!Thanks Kevin for doing good things for the environment!

  • LineaLina

    Susanne Major from LineaLina said 4 years ago

    I always loved herbs, but there seem to be a lot more interesting plants out there! Thanks for sharing! I will take a closer look at wild plants!

  • good4you

    Jes m from good4you said 4 years ago

    drrrr ... it's what I'm all about

  • LaMeowVintage

    Regan from LaMeowVintage said 4 years ago

    Yes I have found wild onions at Golden Gate Park SF and I always hunt for edible mushrooms, such as morels, chanterelles and boletes.

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 4 years ago

    Very cool! Wish I knew which were edible!

  • floraphage

    caroline colesworthy from floraphage said 4 years ago

    I used to teach these classes here in Orange County. For a long time I wanted to take the classes because I feel like there is so much more I want to learn, then one day I realized: People are hungry for this knowledge. Why wait until I know it all to share? I never wanted a moment on a walk for something to say. The default to the unknown answer is always: Let's find out together. We march into the unknown together. Learning about the food that nature provides us without our effort is like discovering that every morning is Christmas.

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 4 years ago

    The neighborhood kids are always freaked out when I eat johnny-jump-ups in front of them.

  • foxflight

    Livia Fuchs from SecretGardenTales said 4 years ago

    Thank you for this wonderful read! My boyfriend and are are eating wild plants since some years...and we are still alive *g*, more than this: we are healthier than before because of the extra boost of vitamins and minerals and all the other great energies within wild plants. Once you begin to tinker with plants, you can discover a wonderful new way to see the world and how we are nestled in it. Since I am eating plants from my nearer enironment, I am feeling happier, securer, more like a real indigenous...and, you can call me crazy, but plants are like best friends for me; they cheer me up when I am down and they help me recover when I am ill, or best way: they even prevent me from getting ill. Last but not least: I had a quote in my mind, while reading this, hopefully I can translate it well ;) "Only if you become aware, that you are eating God, you eat truly." (Taittireya Upanischad)

  • dizhasneatstuff

    deb fearon from dizhasneatstuff said 4 years ago

    I believe attempting to separate our eating habits, personal health and the environment have caused a great deal of our global problems. We are all one and one with the earth. She loves us and provides us with abundant food, water and air. What we choose to do with it is our personal concern ,but effects us globally,too.

  • silviaberrios1

    Silvia Berrios from DesignsbySilvia said 4 years ago

    Kevin, thank you for sharing your forager's tale with us. I live in Southern CA, and I know we have lots of edible plants, I just need to take one of the classes to learn more. In Spring, I eat the petals from my pineapple guava trees, they taste like honey w/cinnamon, so delicious.

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 4 years ago

    Great post ! Thanks !

  • Craftelina

    vik and ig from Craftelina said 4 years ago

    THANK YOU. It is a wonderful direction and this glimpse into your classes and approach is very inspiring. No doubt that the more we return naturally growing plants into our diet the better for us and for Earth, All the best!

  • TheNorthWayStudio

    Maria B. from TheNorthWayStudio said 4 years ago

    Incredibly interesting and compelling to read. I may have to do a bit of foraging now in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--who know's what is in all these rich, dense northern forests!

  • amandolyn

    Amanda from AmandolynCozyCottage said 4 years ago

    So wonderful!!! Congrats :)

  • Sugarbowl

    Sugarbowl from Sugarbowl said 4 years ago

    Wonderful posting! I grew up about 20 miles southwest of Denver in a lovely riparian habitat. We used to have wild asparagus (long gone) but have annually harvested little bits of wild hazelnuts, hops, Sand Creek plums, chokecherries (makes great syrup and brandy), and grapes. As the habitat has dried out due to drought conditions, it will be interesting to see which items come back next year!

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 4 years ago

    this is SO interesting and wonderful! I want to learn more about foraging!

  • PinkGlassPalace

    Catherine from QuantuckBayGlass said 4 years ago

    Interesting read, I've only eaten fruits and berries I've come across in nature, so it looks like I've been missing out!

  • LambkinToquesetc

    LambkinToquesetc from LambkinToquesetc said 4 years ago

    It is fun now and again to nibble on plants I know are edible, but others don't. The looks are priceless!

  • SuVasi

    Debbie Vasilinda from SuVasi said 4 years ago

    Thanks for the great post and reminder. As kids we would gather dandelion greens and nettles for my granny and she would make a good meal, yum!

  • SeanClayton

    Sean Clayton from SCGlassStudio said 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this! I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about edible plants and mushrooms and has been teaching a lot from edible to medicinal. How very amazing our Earth is! If you can make the time at the very least get a book about this matter. :)

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 4 years ago

    Lovley post! Thanks

  • theMagiciansCat

    Cassidy Millar from TheMagiciansCat said 4 years ago

    Amazing!! <3<3<3

  • WingedWorld

    Vickie Moore from WingedWorld said 4 years ago

    I once went out with a botanist who was undertaking a years-long study of peaks and valleys in wild oak trees' acorn production. Acorns were a staple for Native Americans, but now hardly anyone uses them for food. The botanist showed me many different types of plants to eat and he even found an ancient stone mortar and pestle. Those he tucked away under a log so they could stay on the land for thousands of years into the future, undisturbed.

  • BonTons

    BonTons from BonTons said 4 years ago

    Interesting, Thanks

  • nightcloud

    Catharina from nightcloud said 4 years ago

    we are lucky to live in a wild green area where lots of food is just growing around us... nature looks different once you know what can be eaten, what it does to your health :)

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    For years we've been picking wild hedgerow fruit to make into wine, as well as the occasional mushroom for my better half (I don't like them, they all taste of mold to me!) I was just reading on the BBC website about a professional forager who was saying that this year the harvest is so poor he's unable to fulfil orders. We've decided to leave what there is for the wild things who need it much more than we do, so no wine, cider or perry for us this year sadly!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    I should have said we also make Oak leaf wine, nettle beer & a variety of other things from leaves/herbs we forage. :-) never really had much time for actually eating them though!

  • sandboxcastle

    H Wang from sandboxcastle said 4 years ago

    Aside for whether its legal or not to harvest wild stuff in urban areas- I also kind of have concerns over whether treatments have been applied to these plants in urban areas - you might just not know about it... for example - there's a patch of Nasturtium in our complex - because I live there, I know that the complex management has been trying over the years to eradicate it with herbicides (it hasn't worked) and I'd rather be safe than sorry so I wouldn't eat it. If I didn't live there, I'd not know this fact. If I lived near more natural, untouched woods or something- this would be a fun culinary adventure. Thanks for article- makes for a yummy read.

  • guext65

    JW Lin from JWPersonalShop said 4 years ago

    Learned something here today

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 4 years ago

    Great article. I want to learn more.

  • KMalinka

    Natalia from KMalinkaVintage said 4 years ago

    Very good post:O)

  • SundayOwl

    Lisa from SundayOwl said 4 years ago

    I would love to go on this walk.

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 4 years ago

    This seems pretty fun. Too bad there isn't really anywhere where I live to go do this sort of thing. I am very interested in foraging, but am worried that without proper identification skills I will end up eating something I am not supposed to eat! Maybe I am just a worry-wart. Despite this, I would most definitely take part in a class or walk like this if I could. Interesting post.

  • marrittbertrand

    Marritt Bertrand said 4 years ago

    I used to work with Kevin years ago at Merriwood Children's Center! Great read!

  • HandmadeIsAllAround

    HandmadeIsAllAround from iammieOWLshop said 4 years ago

    Interesting!

  • picklehead

    Karina Pryor from picklehead said 4 years ago

    Wow! I love this! thanks for this :)

  • SewnInspirations

    SewnInspirations from SewnInspirations said 4 years ago

    Interesting, informative article. Amazing what is growing around us. So many are not willing to try the unknown. Hope the way we look at food changes soon.

  • raeine

    Lisa Schramek from raeine said 4 years ago Featured

    Southeast Alaska is full of amazing wild edible plant species in addition to the salad (lettuce, nasturtiums, etc.) I plant in the spring. Gathering has always been an important part of our lifestyle, but I continue to learn about more edibles. Wild lowbush cranberry sauce is a staple Thanksgiving treat. Gathering the elusive berry is fun involving hip boots, concentration, and a love of cool misty weather!

  • LCooperDesigns

    LC Cooper from LeMaisonBelle said 4 years ago

    What an interesting article - thanks for publishing!

  • GoldenSpiralDesigns

    Lola Ocian from GoldenSpiralDesigns said 4 years ago

    Here here! I love wild foraging. The pacific northwest is a great place for such activity. Growing up in the San Juan Island summers and even here in the city, one can make a veritable fruit salad. As well, when the rain hits, there are more mushrooms than you can name off the top of your head. Chanterelles in the fall and Morels in the spring. Yum!

  • WoodlandiaHandmade

    Emily from WoodlandiaHandmade said 4 years ago

    Mmm, I love foraging for wild asparagus and mushrooms, but unfortunately, you have to be careful due to the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides. Thank you for the great article!

  • VandaFashion

    Vanda Fashion from VandaFashion said 4 years ago

    Great post ! Thanks !

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 4 years ago

    I've foraged for elderflower before which was quite fun! I get a bit nervous about foraged foods though as you have to be careful not to go too close to roads as of course plants absorb the toxins

  • cberez

    CB DESIGN'S from CBDesignsPR said 4 years ago

    very interesting, I will like to learn more!

  • Sporkshop

    Sporkshop from Sporkshop said 4 years ago

    I agree that modern agriculture has major faults, and I enjoy foraging to a point. It should be noted that most parks (not just urban ones) do not allow the picking of plants, although fruit collection might be permitted. Also, foraging is sustainable only if a small percentage of people do it. Natural areas surrounding heavily populated areas could suffer not only from the over collection of edibles, but overall habitat destruction. In some places, straying off trails is forbidden because excessive trampling can cause plant damage and erosion. I'm not trying to discourage foraging at all, but like everything, you have to take into consideration what your impact may be. It's easy to forage responsibly. One of my favorite edible wilds is the Autumn Olive, an invasive, non-native that produces tons of berries in the fall. And there are lots of other abundant, edible not-so-wilds in my yard such as day lilies, jewel weed, violets, and wood sorrel. Another way to get away from factory farms--see if there is a local CSA in your area. Joining up was one of the best decisions my family ever made!

  • sandrah03

    Sandra H said 4 years ago

    "Wild foods are better for us and better for the planet. This motivates me more than the pursuit of gourmet flavors.” Don't agree with it all. Of course we need to eat healthy food and focus on the climate. But it is very few that is going for the gourmet flavors but a lot is trying to make the best out of their meals. We can't live all our life trying to avoid EVERYTHING and then die unhappy. We need to take care of planet and so worth but still live with all the good things here on the planet and not walk around on tip toes just for the sake of saying "I am naturalist and i will be blessed because i do this" My few cents Sandra My blog @ www.psoriasiswarning.com

  • ohheychrisi

    Chrisi from ohheychrisi said 4 years ago

    Very interesting!! Fresh new start to the morning, now I'm thinking of what's outside! :] xoxo

  • wheatleypaperworks

    M Wheatley from wheatleypaperworks said 4 years ago

    As the mother of a two-year old I'm endlessly DIScouraging the foraging of plants and mushrooms from our yard! Seriously though, my husband, for one, uses many locally foraged plants like dandelion root and stinging nettle for cleansing teas, (he has psoriasis) and has enjoyed tremendous benefits to his general health. I'm a believer. Mother Nature has provided for us abundantly and we would do well to learn how to utilize Her gifts.

  • TallPineStudio

    Sarah from TallPineStudio said 4 years ago

    I can appreciate this article, having spent the last decade+ working as a wetland ecologist. I can recall long days in the field when I'd snack on the edibles around me to keep going. Mmm...cattail and milkweed are a few of my favorites! ;-) There are so many edibles that folks aren't aware of. You just need to get educated on what IS edible/safe and whether foraging is permitted in your area. Thanks much for the post!

  • Zalavintage

    Zane Saracene from Zalavintage said 4 years ago

    Great reminder of what we all can do to improve our health and that of the planet. I was just reading about how native americans look at planet earth, her chakras located around the world, her liver in the mountains of North Dakota, her heart etc. how she will cleanse herself of toxins if we just stop what we're doing, she will repair herself as she has done for millions of years and how our bodies can do the same if we just think first, nothing like a toning brew of nettle tea to warm and enrich our bodies. Can't wait to find a foraging tour of Central Park!

  • Shalotte

    Naomi from Shalotte said 4 years ago

    Don't forget Nasturtium seeds can be pickled for alternative to Capers and English marigold (calendula) petals add a great spicy kick to stir fried dishes and give a yellow hint to rice

  • AlpineGypsy

    Heidi from AlpineGypsy said 4 years ago

    Wonderful! This knowledge used to be a part of every man, woman and child's life before we became an agricultural species. Unfortunately, it is still 'looked down upon' by many, considered to be unsafe, and unnecessary. Well, there is nothing more lovely than going outside and gathering blossoms or leaves/roots from your backyard and making something life-sustaining out of it, to put away for the long cold Winter ~ I'm a plant-person and always have been. When I was 12, I devastated my local patch of Chickweed because when I discovered it tasted just like steamed spinach with butter and salt, I couldn't get enough! LOL...there are lots of nutritious, delicious things out there for people to discover. Kevin's small revolution *may just* contribute to the salvation of this Planet - all we have to do is help people think of themselves as part of this wondrous ecosystem. When you deem yourself part of something, you want to protect it. Marvelous article ~ Heidi

  • ZorroPlateado

    Carole from ZorroPlateado said 4 years ago

    Interesting article..thanks for sharing!

  • BlueMoonLights

    Alexandra Simons from BlueMoonLights said 4 years ago

    My grandma taught me lots about edible plants in our rural neighborhood when I grew up in Germany. I would pick fresh dandelion greens in the spring for her, dry nettles, yarrow flowers, wildflowers, berries and mushrooms. Teaching people about the health benefits for them in articles and plant identification walks is a great idea! Great post!

  • AltogetherLeather

    Anne from AltogetherLeather said 4 years ago

    So cool - really enjoyed this!

  • tamilopez

    Tami Lopez from TamiLopezDesigns said 4 years ago

    Very interesting. We use a lot of herbs in cooking and teas, but I never thought about going out into your environment to forage. Treasures all around us! Thanks for the feature!

  • wildthingz

    Andrea from wildthingz said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful post! I used to love mushroom picking with my parents as a child, I should take it up again!

  • thelandlockedsailor

    The Bosun and Sarita Li Johnson from TheLandlockedSailor said 4 years ago

    Funny. I was just researching urban foraging the other day, and it seems SF is the US hub! And...now here it is on Etsy. Danielle Tsi scores again! :) {Her}

  • localevintage

    localevintage from localevintage said 4 years ago Featured

    This article makes me happy! Back in the mid-late 90's I took many herbology classes with Jeanine Pollack in Santa Cruz, CA. I still use that knowledge today when hiking with my friends here in Oregon. Of course you must be careful where you harvest your plants from, but having more knowledge about which plants are edible and their different properties makes for fun hiking conversations as well. Many times the plant that you think is a weed in your yard is actually an edible or medicinal plant. Its great to know these things and put those plants to use in your meals or medicine cabinet. Thank you Etsy for sharing this article.

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 4 years ago

    This is great. We have a little urban patio garden and we belong to the local csa. But I would have just assumed that it isn't possible to go out and forage local edibles. Thanks!

  • messinabella

    messinabella from BandBEstate said 4 years ago

    Great post!

  • FamouslyFunky

    Megan Moore from FamouslyFunky said 4 years ago

    Love this!!!

  • needleandfelt

    Amy from needleandfelt said 4 years ago

    Kevin, I wish you could teach a class on our land by the river - I would love to learn about what plants were edible in our area -

  • elizabethfrederick3

    elizabeth frederick from sewingatwisteria said 4 years ago

    My father used to do this in the 1950s.He found old orchards and took care of the trees to make them produce again and he showed us his children how to live in the wild. I have used and taught his knowledge all my life

  • MissMabee

    Andrea Susan said 4 years ago

    I love this. Thank you for sharing. I would love to learn more about wild edibles in the Niagara Region and have been having a hard time finding a guide. I am learning quite a bit on my own but am worried about exploring mushrooms on my own as so many are poisonous.

  • shopgoodgrace

    Teresa from shopgoodgrace said 4 years ago

    Incredibly fascinating!! It's like a throwback to "simpler" times - which I love.

  • andiespecialtysweets

    Jason and Andie from andiespecialtysweets said 4 years ago

    Love seeing this article, Danielle. We think this is one of the smartest things to do -to get familiar with wild food. It is amazing how much vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, protein and fiber can be obtained from wild food -just amazing!

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 4 years ago

    The first time our brother-in-law brought us wild mushrooms he had found I was a bit hesitant to try them. Interesting to wonder how much we may be missing out on simply because we haven't been taught which native plants are beneficial to us. Thanks for the interesting article!

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 4 years ago

    I was just thinking about taking a course on edible plants, too bad I don't live closer. As a child in Florida, I used to pick an orange flower in our neighborhood on my way home from school and suck the sugary liquid from it. I never knew the name of the flower and would like to know what it was. Any ideas?

  • tomsgrossmami

    Tom's Grossmami from tomsgrossmami said 4 years ago

    Thanks for this great post!

  • SewSimplyFresh

    Kim Opoku-Ansah from StitchLightly said 4 years ago

    This is amazing! I would love to learn more about this so my family would be able to survive in the event our grocery store food became unavailable.

  • SaffronColoredPony

    Debra from SaffronColoredPony said 4 years ago

    I was introduced to sorrel in my parking lot, purslane in my backyard and wild carrot.....incredible, delicious. A young chef who stopped in my shop for coffee talked to me about his experience in Sweden and showed me what I had to eat in my own space! I'm enthralled!

  • laculotte

    Chloe Bonfield from DillyandDallyChloe said 4 years ago

    This is great. It's a shame that this foraging nature is lost in modern life. English gardens used to be all about useful and beautiful things. Inspiring guy. Next goal in life.. get clued up about foraging!!

  • irishandmore

    irishandmore from irishandmore said 4 years ago

    Everyone here seems to be too young to remember Euell Gibbon's book - stalking the wild asparagus. C 1962 ISBN 0-911469-03-6 Using it as a foundation, with today's internet photo reference ability, one can forage with confidence!

  • lucysangster

    Lucy Sangster from UseOrOrnament said 4 years ago Featured

    My parents took me foraging when I was little, I love coming back from a walk with something to eat! Here in Yorkshire, one of the great sights of late summer is seeing whole families picking billberries (the UK native blueberry) on the edge of the moor in Otley and Ilkley. My favourite find was a puffball - a mushroom the size of a football - which got fried in garlic butter with the leftovers dried into a rich powder that I add to risottos. Elders and brambles make great jam, sorbets and pies too. Yum yum!

  • KevinMcCain10

    Kevin McCain from SouthWestArtGallery said 4 years ago

    Reading this reminds me I need to learn more about the plants I see when I go out painting in the landscape. I would like to be a better forager.

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