Asheville nonprofit takes on foraging adventures

By Erika Williams – [email protected] – Contributor | April 8, 2015 |
Asheville students have the opportunity to go wild and eat locally while weather warms, as Alan Muskat leads groups of all ages into the outdoors surrounding Asheville to get a taste of nature.
“When you have a sense of home in nature, it is personally grounding, and you really develop a sense of safety where you are,” said Muskat, CEO of No Taste Like Home.
Muskat said he teaches groups of about​ ​five to 15​ ​people​ ​how to find, identify and eat edible fungi and plants in the forests of North Carolina. He said this wild food foraging adventure gives people a sense of home when they know what exists in their​ ​backyard.
“You may not feel safe and at home if you do not care about, or love your friends and family in nature,” Muskat said.
According to Muskat, he led about 100 expeditions last year, and will continue the adventures this year. The Princeton graduate said students may attend for free if there is room on a scheduled trip. He said each trip lasts about three hours, and tour locations vary.
Muskat said he frequents DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest for the expeditions. He said Pisgah provides one of his favorite spots, the Pink Beds recreational area, because of the large and diverse amount of edible plants.
A background in garage sales and bargain hunting sparked his interest in being thrifty and this transformed into being thrifty in the wild, he said.
The organization also provides edible plants for many restaurants in the area that focus on local food sources, according to Muskat.
Rebekah Jopling ​manages tours and handles scheduling, marketing and outreach ​as the Administrative Director of No Taste Like Home.
“By now it is pretty well understood that we are far too removed from the sources of our food,” Jopling said. “The past decade or so has seen a revolution to reconnect with the land, with an explosion of small farms, school gardens and all manner of classes on growing and saving your own food.”
Jopling said when she learned of this business devoted to teaching the importance of wild foods and how to find them, especially the opportunity to integrate these lessons into public school curriculum, she contacted Muskat to find out how she could be involved.
“I remember being about eight or nine and learning that there was a plant in the woods that, if you dug up the root, you could use to make a drink that tasted just like root beer. I don’t even like root beer, but I just remember that blowing my mind,” Jopling said.
Eating wild food poses danger when people do not do it correctly, according to Sara Strickland, National Park Service employee.
“I believe that there are​ ​medicinal and nutritional​ ​benefits of eating wild plants and fungi,”​ ​said Strickland, a biological science technician in North Carolina.
Strickland said some plants in the wild are very deceiving, and can look like edible plants when they are actually poisonous.
“I would not recommend eating plants in the wild unless you have done extensive research on plant identification, or you are with someone like Alan who is experienced in this area,” Strickland said.
Melanie Bush, UNC Asheville sophomore, said she never did anything of this nature before.
“It definitely sounds like an experience worth trying,” said Bush, 20.