Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting

In addition to growing food and raising animals, foraging edible plants, fishing, and hunting are other great options for local food when done responsibly in accordance with city, county, and state regulations.

Even in an urban environment, we are surrounded by an abundance of food-bearing plants and ecosystems that can reduce our grocery bills, while adding variety and nutrition to our diet. With some research and a brave stomach, urban foraging is an accessible way to learn about the resources within your own backyard and neighborhood, as well as reduce your environmental impact.

This section outlines some of the best places to get started foraging, fishing, and hunting in the City of Des Moines.

Where to Look Back to Top

The best place to start urban foraging is close to home: in your backyard, if possible, and along neighborhood streets, and in public spaces officially approved for foraging and promoted by the City of Des Moines.

Be sure to follow proper guidelines and best practices to protect foraging resources. Remember to always ask permission first if foraging on private property! When foraging on publicly owned land be sure to research landowner regulations and only forage in season,  in approved areas, using correct methods.

Ethical Harvesting Back to Top

Foraging wild edibles can actually be beneficial to the plants themselves, and urban foraging has not been proven to have negative environmental impacts, according to Marla R. Emery, research geographer for the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station. However, it’s important to forage in moderation and gather wild foods responsibly. In general, it’s best to only harvest part of the plant and leave the portions needed to reproduce (roots and bulbs).

For more detailed information, see The Sierra Club’s Foraging for Wild Food: 6 Sustainable Techniques.

Current Regulations Back to Top

Local ordinances related to urban foraging are limited. Foraging activity that causes damage to public trees or shrubs is prohibited. Foragers should follow best practices for harvesting.

Sec. 122-3. — Unauthorized interference with trees or shrubs.

No person shall remove, prune, cut, molest, break, deface, destroy, spray, repair or do surgery work upon any tree or part thereof or in any manner interfere with, disturb or injure any tree, shrub or plant upon the public property of the city nor shall any chemical be used for the control of insects or diseases or for any other reason. No person shall permit any chemical, either solid or fluid, to seep, drain or be emptied on or about any tree, shrub or plant that is or may be growing upon any public property of the city without first obtaining a permit from the forestry division.

(C42, § 76-3; C54, C62, § 59-3; C75, § 25-3; O.9090; C79, C91, § 25-3)

Sec. 122-58. — Restriction on planting certain trees.

  1. No tree shall be planted in any of the public highways, streets or alleys in the city which is not identified as a recommended street tree for use under the circumstances of that location in the list of recommended tree species approved by the city council by resolution.
  2. No trees may be planted in any of the public highways, streets or alleys in the city where there is less than 2½ feet of soil on all sides of such tree, and not more than two trees can be planted on the parking in front of a 50-foot lot. No conifers or evergreens should be planted between the sidewalk and the curb of any city street for safety considerations. No such planting shall be any closer than five feet from any fire hydrant nor closer than 30 feet to another tree.
(C42, § 76-9; C54, C62, § 59-14; C75, C79, C91, § 25-18; O.11,950, 14,889)

In addition, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources states:

"A good place to look can be public parks, as it's conveniently legal for anyone to forage on public land unless specifically posted otherwise." 

The City of Des Moines urges users to respect the resources within our park system so we can continue to provide public spaces for recreation and wellbeing, while ensuring we are protecting the natural systems we depend on. If you're uncertain about where to go contact the City's  Parks and Recreation department for more information.

Examples Back to Top

Backyard Edible Weeds
  • Dandelion
  • Plantain
  • Purslane
  • Wood Sorrel
  • Lamb's Quarter
  • Chickweed
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Violets (blue or white)
Iowa Mushrooms for Beginners
  • Morel
  • Oyster
  • Chicken of the Woods
  • Hen of the Woods (Maitake)
  • Chanterelle
  • Lion's Mane
Berries and Fruit
  • Service Berries (June Berries)
  • Mulberries
  • Black Raspberries
  • Wild Grape
  • Wild Plum
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Pear
  • Apple
  • Peach
  • Pawpaw
  • Stinging Nettles
  • Ramps
  • Maple Sugar
  • Ginkgo Biloba Nuts
  • Black Walnuts

Learning Resources Back to Top

Book List
  • Abundantly Wild by Teresa Marrone
  • Wild Berries & Fruits Field Guide of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri by Teresa Marrone
  • The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer
  • Incredible Wild Edibles by Samuel Thayer
  • Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
  • The Forager's Pantry: Cooking with Wild Edibles by Ellen Zachos
  • Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by National Audubon Society
  • 100 Edible Mushrooms by Michael Kuo
  • The Forager’s Guide to Wild Foods by Nicole Apelian
Digital Resources
  • iNaturalist - phone app created by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society for broad information on local flora and fauna
  • Seek - a companion phone app for identifying species using photo recognition
  • Falling Fruit - an open-source interactive map of public, edible plant locations
Web Resources

Opportunities Back to Top

  • Sprout: The Des Moines Urban Youth Learning Garden at Drake University - “Food Forest” coming soon
  • Ephemeral Midwest - Ben Hoksch - foraging workshops, events, consulting - based in Ames -
  • Urban Ambassadors - all-volunteer, community-driven, nonprofit serving Des Moines. “Our mission is to inspire and empower individuals to be more sustainable at home and in the community.”
  • Abundant Design, LLC - provides Des Moines and Central Iowa with Edible & Sustainable Landscaping, Regenerative Land Use Consulting, Permaculture Design and Installation services.

FAQ Back to Top

Where can I forage in Des Moines?

It is legal for anyone to forage on public land, unless specifically posted otherwise. This includes neighborhood streets, open spaces, and designated foraging locations other identified public lands. Always check city regulations and observe posted signage. Remember to get permission before foraging on private property. Protecting public resources and habitat is critical.

How can I learn about identifying plants?

The books and digital resources above are a great place to start learning about edible plants.

What tools and resources do I need to start urban foraging?

You can start foraging with minimal resources - for most edible plants, all you need is a container to collect and appropriate clothing. If you start foraging more often, making a homemade “blicky box” from recycled materials is a good next step.

How can I process and eat the food that I forage?

Many edibles can be eaten fresh, but if you find yourself with a surplus harvest there are several options for food preservation. These include pickling, canning, freezing, fermentation, and production of jams, wines, sauces, etc. Many of these can be done in your home kitchen with minimal equipment.