Exploring Wild Edible Plants with Urban Conservation Corps

By Kristin Faurest

“A weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Interpretive Programs Manager Wren Smith ventured into the city last week for a visit with Urban Conservation Corps members at the Smoketown headquarters of YouthBuild Louisville. YouthBuild, which offers vocational opportunities to youth ages 16-22, maintains about an acre of fruit trees, beehives, chickens, turkeys, herb and vegetable gardens and greenhouses. But it was in the interstitial places that the magic was happening, with Wren plucking up sprigs of edible wild plants that thrive in urban environments like Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album), Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) and Curly Dock (Rumex crispus). Not to mention the endlessly-versatile and wildly underestimated dandelion, which lends itself graciously to salads, tea, winemaking, and — who knew? — vegan crabcakes! So to paraphrase Emerson: There’s no such thing as weeds — just plants we haven’t met yet!

Wren’s walk and talk was part of Bernheim’s Youth Development in Nature initiative. For the past year YouthBuild’s UCC and Summerworks participants have completed six week work-study programs onsite at Bernheim. As a natural outgrowth of that collaboration, Bernheim’s Education, Horticulture and Natural Areas staff are bringing Bernheim to the city. The outreach includes more than 40 hours of hands-on collaborative learning at the YouthBuild campus in everything from green roofs to pollinator habitat to collaborative environmental art to creating a brand for an urban garden and community space.

Bernheim is an amazing place, but what it offers doesn’t have to end when we leave its gates. It’s a feeling that we can take with us so anyone can connect with nature — anywhere. We’re proud to be working with these creative, inquisitive young people as their hard work continues to transform their space into a thriving and welcoming urban environment.

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