Subjects: Mapping / Information Sharing / License / Access
Within the open discussions related to Environmental Computing on Wednesday 28.9, The theme of Foraging & Knowledge Commons was proposed by Andrew Paterson, and he was joined by Melissa Grant, Brian Degger, Corrie Van Sice, Oron Catts, Benjamin Pothier, Terike Haapoja.
The starting point being the small patch of berries at the corner of the biological station. Next to us are blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and mountain crowberry (Empetrum hermaphroditum) bushes. However after briefly pointing at them, we moved indoors to discuss. Discussion began with Andrew showing two books as a way to enter a discussion about knowledge commons that take a different approach on cultural heritage: One reconstructs a past practice for awareness and edutainment, while the other raises living (but ‘endangered’) practices for awareness and practice-based learning. The following question was raised for consideration in general: Do publishing platforms enable or not, allow or not; consideration of how information/knowledge/data about foraging and wild food is appropriately shared.
The first book, Wild Food was published by BBC and authored by Ray Mears, the well-known English bushcraft TV show host and archaeobotanist Gordon Hillman (2007). As an innovative cross-disciplinary book it makes connections between anthropological research bushcraft practice, inspired by Australian Aboriginals, and mesolithic research into what hunter-gathering ancestors of the British Isles might have eaten from the wild resources. Ray Mears’s knowledge is a popular franchise and copyrighted. According to the inside cover notary, “Our wildlife is, quite rightly, protected by various pieces of legislation (in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)”, and that “All the photographs and samples for analysis.. were taken for the purposes of scientific evaluation of the practices of our hunter-gatherer ancestors”. Their aim was to “increase the enjoyment, appreciation and awareness of our flora and fauna” although “readers should not assume they are allowed to follow any of the practices described”.
The other book was one which Andrew was involved in producing within the Herbologies/Foraging Networks project, in collaboration with Signe Pucena of SERDE Interdisciplinary Arts Group, and her collaborators Una Smilgaine and Martins Laizans. It’s production was funded by a Nordic Culture Point Art & Culture grant . It was made following an expedition to the Latvian countryside to learn about how locals in the village-towns of Aizpute and Alsunga use wild plants and foraged produce within the context of intangible cultural heritage and emerging art/activist cultural production. This expedition consisted of about 16 international artists, designers, heritage workers and herbal/wild-plant experts from Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Belgium, Spain and Poland. The bilingual Latvian-English edited book of interviews and texts were printed and redistributed locally to the interviewed persons and others, as well as published as extended texts online under a Creative Commons license. It was not obvious to Andrew and his Latvian collaborators (of whom several were folklorists and heritage workers) how to publish heritage materials, in particular in their case, the foraging practices of mostly elder Latvian ladies on the internet. Was it public domain knowlege? At least we thought we shouldnt release the information where it could be exploited, but maybe we should have considered a different license (such as Peer-production license which allows those who are commons-orientated to use the info to sustain themselves). Questions for the editors continued: Was it special or published knowledge already? There exists many encyclopediac info about wild plant use, but not much in descriptions about the persons behind cultural practice. The range of questions to the interviewees addressed this. If they learned this knowledge from family members, books, in some cases internet, how reputable is it? Can it be verified? What responsibility does the publisher have to the reader? Unlike the Ray Mears book we did not include a disclaimer.
We continued the discussion also on another track, related to mapping of food that may be foraged, considering the differences in different contexts. In the urban environment there have been several art-activist projects locating and mapping surplus overhanging from private property or available unpicked fruit-bearing plants planted by municipality, such the Fallen Fruit project from Los Angeles, Joel Rosenberg’s Satokartta in Helsinki or irrational.org’s Bristol Food for Free maps. It was noted that in many urban environments such projects operated on the basis that there is not common access, but private control of land, and margins which blur it. However, some municipalities and organisations in negotiation with them are discussing planting more/new fruit or nut -bearing trees in publically-accessible spaces as a common-good. How about in the forests and countrysides? Especially in Nordic countries (for example in Finland) or Scotland where everymans rights apply, allowing people access to the land, and ability to pick wild produce when it is not endangered? Would one be willing to share the location of their good mushroom or berry locations? If so, who would you share it with? Your closest friends or family (as inherited knowledge)? Ten to thirty trusted friends? What earns that trust? In relation to indigenous access and rights to knowledge, if something is designated as sacred (for example as Maori say Tapu), then it is forbidden to use or touch it. For example one map for those who have earned respect and access to the information/knowledge due to respect with the subject, and another version to share with outsiders. Social network computing metaphors such as groups, circles and lists come to mind. How reciprocal might it be? Communication networks would be necessary to encourage and developed socially or community beneficial foraging, such as group orchard-picking or juice-making. How should it be done appropriately?
Mears R., Hillman, G. (2007). Wild Food. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd./BBC
Pucena, S., Smilgaine, U., Laizāns, M. (2010). Tradīciju Burtnīca: Vācēju kultūra Viduskurzemē / Exercise Book of Traditions: Foraging in Central Kurzeme. Talsu: SERDE.