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Urban Forager Chides Parks Dept. for Tearing Down Rogue Garden

By Andrea Swalec | June 20, 2011 7:40pm | Updated on June 21, 2011 7:18am

By Andrea Swalec

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — There are berries, herbs, mushrooms and seeds for the taking in Inwood Hill Park, and celebrated forager "Wildman" Steve Brill will lead a walking tour through the hilly park later this month to teach curious tourists how to find them all.

The announcement of Brill's tour comes on the heels of the Parks Department's decision to raze a "rogue" farm in High Bridge Park on Friday after warning that the crops were not safe for consumption.

"I think they should have just left it alone," Brill, 62, said about the farm, which grew string beans, corn and tomatoes. He situated the incident within what he called "a long history of harassment of community gardeners."

On Brill's tour on Sunday, July 17, foragers can expect to find wineberries, blackberries and elderberries, the "Wildman" said, calling wineberries his favorite. They taste like "a raspberry on steroids," he said.

"They're very dangerous — because when you eat them you die of happiness," said Brill, who lives in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Foragers clomping around 196-acre Inwood Hill Park may also find sassafras, an ingredient in root beer; black birch, an ingredient in birch beer; burdock, a pricey detoxifying herb, and various kinds of mushrooms, a press release about the tour said.

The four-hour walk begins at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, July 17 at the Fort Tryon Park-Anne Loftus Playground at Dyckman Street and Broadway. Wildman suggests a $20 donation for adults and $10 for children under 12 years old, and asks that attendees call (914) 835-2153 at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a place.

Park Department rules prohibit foraging, stating "No person shall deface, write upon, sever, mutilate, kill or remove from the ground any plants, flowers, shrubs or other vegetation under the jurisdiction of the Department without permission of the Commissioner."

Violations of the law are criminal misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $15,000 and up to one year of jail time.

But Brill says his well-publicized tours have tacit approval from the Parks Department, and that park officials wave to him when they see him digging around.

"They don't want to give official permission to me for fear of facing a lawsuit," he said.

Several websites advise would-be-foragers on what edibles they can find in New York's public parks. Since March 2010, The New York Times has published a series on foraging on its City Room blog.