Alan Robert Pierce is a 2014 graduate of the PhD Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England.
Alan Pierce, PhD, is an independent researcher, specializing in non-timber forest
products and forest policy.
This study examines why contemporary Americans continue to gather wild plants and fungi. Vermont, a state with a rich history of gathering, serves as a study site. I interviewed twenty-four gatherers using ethnographic methods. I applied a Bourdieusian framework to analyze the differences between gathering practices as they related to gathering knowledge, views of nature, and uses of gathered products. The interviews indicated that gathering is important to the physical and mental well-being of its practitioners and instills a connection to nature as well as to place. Interviewees cited spending time in nature and enjoyment of engaging the senses as the primary reasons for gathering. Other reasons identified included strengthening social bonds, obtaining food, medicine or income, and enjoying the “treasure hunt” aspect of gathering. Differences in gathering practices are attributable to habitus and background. Interviewees from agrarian backgrounds primarily learned their gathering skills from friends or relatives, rarely used scientific names of plants or fungi, often equated gathering with work, and tended to view gathered products as economic capital. By contrast, interviewees from suburban and urban backgrounds mostly learned their gathering skills through classes or books, exhibited greater familiarity with scientific names of species, saw gathering as a leisure activity, and were more apt to use gathered products as social and symbolic capital. Vermont is transitioning from an agrarian-based economy to a mixed-economy, and in the process, the working landscape is being replaced by a landscape of leisure. Gathering as an agrarian practice is being supplanted by gathering as an epicurean-oriented practice, and heralds a subtle shift in human-nature interactions. Policy makers need to account for such shifts and demonstrate greater nuance in regulating gathering, particularly non-commercial gathering. My research also suggests that trends to professionalize gathering are on the rise, a finding that could result in the exclusion of gatherers from resources or markets.
Pierce, A. R. (2014). The Distance from Necessity: A Bourdieusian Analysis of Gathering Practices in Vermont. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/73