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Lauren Dalberth Hage can find food almost anywhere, even on the side of a busy street near Penngrove.

Cars zipped past Dalberth Hage on a recent afternoon as she harvested reddish-brown dock seeds, which she will grind up into a flour and bake into energy bars.

Climbing down into a gully, she filled a basket with elderberries. Earrings of manzanita and abalone shell dangling from her ears, she reached high with a pair of pruners to get the topmost berries. The blue fruit will be used to make a healthy tincture.

Dalberth Hage, 33, always keeps a few empty baskets in her Toyota Prius in case she spots some wild food while driving. She said there are few situations where she would find herself hungry.

"It's really empowering to walk into an ecosystem and know what I can and can't eat," said the co-founder of Weaving Earth, a Penngrove outdoor education school. "There's a real freedom in being able to go out the door and harvest whatever is in season. Every place feels like home."

Dalberth Hage, who lives in Point Reyes but is planning a move to the Petaluma area, is part of a growing movement of people on the North Coast and across the country who forage for food from neighborhood fruit trees, along roadsides, in city parks and in wilderness areas.

These urban and suburban foragers aren't usually out to save a buck, though they do tout the financial benefits of a smaller food bill. North Coast foragers are more often earthy foodies who seek out rare and unique ingredients like thistles, mustard greens, miner's lettuce and mushrooms for gourmet cooking.

"It's never about money," said Mark Dierkhising, a Santa Rosa chef and owner of Dierk's Parkside Cafe. "It's about the quality of the products, having something unusual and learning about food."

Dierkhising said he walks around his Bennett Valley neighborhood gleaning apples, Asian pears, Meyer lemons and Santa Rosa plums from neighbors' fruit trees.

"We all kind of share," he said. "Knowing where food comes from and how it was grown, those are the important things."

For some foragers, there is profit in found food. The Napa Valley's Connie Green has built a lucrative business foraging for mushrooms in the hills around Napa.

Green, founder of Wineforest Wild Foods, started out 35 years ago trading locally foraged chanterelles for meals at fancy Bay Area restaurants. Now her company supplies top chefs with Himalayan truffles, Alaskan porcinis, fiddlehead ferns, nettles and huckleberries, among other foraged ingredients.

"It's sort of a lifetime thing," said Green, author of "The Wild Table," a book on foraging. "Going to farmers markets is great. Gathering wild foods puts you even closer to the source of your food. It's something you do not get from Safeway."

Not all wild food is free for the taking, however. Foraging in most state parks remains illegal, and it is allowed only with a permit in national forests.

"It's one of the ongoing jokes on us that animals can do it, but we cannot. Deer can forage but we cannot," said Patrick Hamilton, a Cotati forager. "There's a big anti-foraging mentality."

On private land, the protocol is to ask permission before gathering, foragers say. FallingFruit.org, a website that displays crowdsourced maps of fruit trees and vegetable gardens that can be picked publicly, has detailed maps of many North Coast communities.

Another site, FoundFruit.com, is a sort of social network for Bay Area foragers where experts can pass along information to those just getting into foraging.

Alexandria Goodman, a Guerneville school administrator and FoundFruit member, described herself as a budding forager but is interested in learning more.

"I do forage but in a very novice way," she said. "If I see something that piques my interest, I will pick it and then go find out what it is."

Organizations like the nonprofit ForageSF teach classes on foraging.

Sonoma chef John McReynolds has taken some classes to learn about the edible plants he comes across while hiking. He has learned how to make bread out of acorns and tea from the bark of the Madrone tree.

The culinary director of Stone Edge Farm said foraging has taught him to see nature in a different light.

"I look at the wild slightly differently. There is food all around us from a variety of sources," McReynolds said. "I like the thrill of being out in nature and coming across things that are edible. It's more fun than going to the supermarket."

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.