Nance Klehm: Radical Ecologist
Radical ecologist Nance Klehm talks about habitat, soil and health on her urban foraging tours.
Photo By Jason Creps
“I think of myself as a spider who has eight legs,” Nance Klehm tells me. “I need to put down every leg to move forward.” She’s explaining the variety of methods she uses to get the rest of us to start looking around, seeing our surroundings as a habitat—for humans and every living creature. A sampling of Klehm’s activities includes designing landscapes, writing, and leading urban foraging tours. She has conducted art experiments involving urban composting toilets, a weed identification guide, and a roaming taco cart at which stories served as currency. “I have all these different pieces that I move forward slowly. They all have the same passion and belief: that I want to connect people to nature and environment in an experiential way.”
Klehm has been called a radical ecologist. These words have connotations, of course, but traced from Latin and Greek, they translate to a roots-based study of the relationships between living things. There couldn’t be a more accurate summary of her work, and at the root of what connects all living things Klehm has found soil and water. In these elements she sees “a starting ground to grow health.” Because the mineral makeup of soil can be observed through the plant life growing in it, Klehm’s foraging tours serve as a basic primer in soil health. Yes, she introduces audiences to edible and medicinal plants growing wild in urban areas, “but the underlying, overall thing,” she asserts, “is about re-engaging the city as habitat. I wanted to help urban people better appreciate their surroundings and to find their place within that through a sense of wonder and a careful engagement.”
The tours came about somewhat accidentally. “I’m not an urban person,” explains Klehm. “I came to the city because it’s a world of ideas, and I realized that the world of ideas is a lonely one. So I started going for long walks along the train tracks near my house.” Her background, growing up rurally with a horticulturalist father, enabled her to identify plants. She estimates that the foraging tours began seven years ago.