A fifth-generation horticulturalist, Nance Klehm has always been attuned to the great outdoors. "I grew up on 500 acres of rural northwest Illinois. We had an orientation to land, animals and plants as part of our world. It's never been something I've been separated from," says Klehm, who is also an urban forager and self-styled "radical ecologist." Over the years, she's led foraging tours around the world, and on Feb. 22, with the support of design shop Otherwild and the feminist art practice Women's Center for Creative Work, she will lead an urban walkabout designed to help Angelenos identify edible plants and learn about their botanical histories.
Where will you be taking this urban foraging workshop?
It's going to be an easy walk. We're going to start at Otherwild (1932 Echo Park Ave.) and move on from there. We'll be walking the sidewalks. We'll probably climb the steps into Elysian Park and end there because it's a nice place to gather, ask questions and snack on foraged treats.
How should people prepare for it?
They might bring a pen and a notebook to take notes, a pocketknife and a small bag to keep what they've gathered. The biggest thing to know is that it'll be slow and intimate. We won't be hiking for miles.
Foraging can be an intimidating concept. How do you know they're eating safe plants?
With plants, there's not a lot of danger if you can do some basic identification. I'm talking like differentiating an elephant from a giraffe. You just have to train your eyes to see. You don't have to identify everything in the landscape; you just have to identify the things that you enjoy and start at that point. Mushrooms are a different foraging adventure, and more care needs to be exercised. It's just much more advanced.
How do these wild plants differ from cultivated ones in our backyards?
Wild plants are higher in their nutritive value than any cultivated plant — like, through the roof more. They're much better at gathering nutrients from the soil, much more adaptable to the climate and compromised weather conditions. They'll pull through when your lettuce plants will wilt. It's almost the difference between a wolf and a shih tzu.
You're involved in a number of other pursuits: writing, landscape design, art installations. What role does foraging play in all of your work?
The big picture for me is trying to connect people back to the land that surrounds them, to themselves as stewards of this land, and also as animals. I want them to reconnect to the human body and the body of the landscape, to get out of our heads and be in a more sensual place. I'd like to reawaken that state of wonder in our lives.
Urban Foraging Workshop
Where: Starts at Otherwild, 1932 Echo Park Ave., L.A.
When: 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22
What: Mead-making workshop
When: 6:30-9 p.m. Thursday