I came across Diego Bonetto’s website while doing my own research and immediately felt like I had come across a kindred spirit. In this age where the internet often divides us more than it connects us, I took heart in the idea that globalized wild plants, aka City Plants, could reach through the ether and connect two of their most ardent supporters.
Diego himself in an interesting transplant, born in Italy and living in Sydney, Australia. Since 2002 he’s been working as a multimedia artist and cultural engagement practitioner. Through his art, tours, workshops, and the Wild Food Map, he introduces participants to wild plants, their origins, and their usefulness. I, for one, am scoping out tickets to Australia to visit, but in the meantime, I asked Diego a couple of questions.
City Plants: Why did you first become interested in wild food? Was is it a eureka! Kind of a moment? Or something that you came upon overtime?
Diego Bonetto: I grew up in a dairy farm northern Italy. We had cows, pigs, goats, chickens, geese, rabbits, dogs and a host of other animals. We grew corn, oat and wheat in the fields and grass for hay in pastures. Wild plants have always been everywhere. I was lucky enough to grow in a culture that valued the wild offering of the land, and as youngsters was mine and my sisters job to go and harvest wild greens in spring, berries in summer and mushrooms in autumn.
This was done according to age long cycles, a tradition that took advantage of uncultivated plants as much as the ones growing in the vegetable patch. I grew up with wild food knowledge, and never stopped practicing it.
CP: In our epicurean age, there is so much education about food from farmers markets to numerous documentaries. Why is wild food education particularly important to you? What does it bring to the larger discussion?
DB: Wild food connect people to place. Wild uncultivated plants speak of place and season like nothing else. By learning the succession of species people re-engage with natural progression, weather patterns, ecologies and disturbances. All of those realizations make us better humans, attuned to our surroundings and aware of fragility. At this point in time when human are so lost in themselves that they cannot see the planet dying under their feet, any amount of environmental awareness is beneficial.
CP: You employ a number of strategies to get people engaged with wild food – art, workshops, and tours to name a few. Do you find that audiences react differently to each of these strategies? For example, are participants in your tours more likely to forage on their own than those who attend an art event?
DB: Absolutely, different people want to learn about wild food for different reasons. Chefs and catering industry want to have access to unique produce that would give them a point of difference; young families want to expose their offspring to nature as they see the benefit of skilling up their kids with natural processes; academics are interested in the way society can shift towards more sustainable narratives with their own surroundings; survivalist want to accumulate knowledge in preparation for whatever they think is going to come; journalists and writers are very much in love with the romantic idea of free, connected, hyper healthy-organic-local-seasonal-low carb-high nutrients life. All of them come away with a new respect for our co-evolutionary species: weeds.
CP: On your website, the first words viewers see are “Every Plant Has A Story,” which is something I believe and am incredibly passionate about as well. Is there a particular story that first grabbed you? Or one that you found particularly surprising?
DB: I learn new stories every day. Never stop learning. The most surprising story I came across is when I realised that there is no stop to learning, and appreciation.
Wild Food Map is such an incredible project that allows participants to both explore and contribute to the knowledge of wild plants. Having interacted with your app and website even a little bit, I am floored by the number and variety of edible wild foods! Could you talk a little bit about what inspired the project and where you see it going in the future?
The project sparked years ago when I was doing google mapping of the wild food around my area. Back in 2013 I collaborated with a fellow digital producer and we devised the prototype of Wild Food Map. We are now in the process of releasing the iOS version for it and and upgrade to the Android and web app. We are looking for collaborators who can code so to ease the burden. The whole project (by now over 40,000 tags worldwide) comes out of a minimal budget we put together with a crowdfunding campaign. We need proper funding and/or willing people to share the job. This project has the potential of great community and ecological outcome. Jump on board, let’s make it together.
CP: What’s next? Where can readers see your work, sign up for tours, or check out a workshop?
DB: I am working with farmers, foragers and high end restaurant providors to create a stream of produce to the best chefs of Sydney. We want to make weeds cool again, so that people stop killing and hating them, and start to eat them.
Join a workshop or follow the unfolding steps on my website> www.diegobonetto.com