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US Forest Service Research Geographer Gets to the Heart of Why People Forage

Marla Emery works in the agency’s Research and Development’s People and Their Environments unit in Burlington, Vt.

Marla Emery works in the agency’s Research and Development’s People and Their Environments unit in Burlington, Vt.

Marla Emery looks at plantain – an ordinary weed to most people – with an eye on how some people will use it. After all, her work with the U.S. Forest Service as a research geographer leads her to interesting conversations with people who forage in rural and urban forests.

“On a good day, one of those people will take me out in the forest and we will walk around and pick up things that we can eat or use for medicine or use for something else,” she said. “They talk to me about how they see that forest and how they use that forest throughout the year.

“A great deal of my work is done sitting in people’s kitchens talking to them. It is amazing. It’s truly wonderful. I never go into someone’s kitchen where they do not give me something to eat or drink while they are sharing all kinds of information with me.”

Emery works in the agency’s Research and Development’s People and Their Environments unit in Burlington, Vt. She said her research has shown that no matter a person’s social or economic status, the connection to nature is the deep.

“People are just passionate about their ability to go out into the forest or in the open spaces and interact immediately and directly with nature,” she said. “It creates deep, intimate relationships between people and places, people and ecosystems. Understanding those relationships tells us something important about how people and ecosystems interact.”

Find out more about Emery and her research in Faces of the Forest, a bi-weekly feature of the U.S. Forest Service’s Office of Communication that showcases the people, places and professions in the agency.

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