Where The Wild Things Are

fritz-haeg1

Photograph: Fritz Haeg

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s arrival on what we now call Manhattan–well before the Airtrain–and Dr. Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society has spent a decade researching the island’s natural history to piece together what Hudson found back in 1609.

His resulting Mannahatta Project plots out the few square miles that are today a concrete jungle but which were then home to wolves, songbirds, salamanders and the Lenape people who had hunted, fished and farmed here for centuries. (Those who geek out on technology rather than history will like the interactive map allows you to zoom in on any block to see what might have been there, like snakes–the reptile kind, that is–near today’s Times Square.)

Sanderson also worked with Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates to create a garden on W. 26th Street that features the foods the Lenape grew in their fields and gleaned from the island’s woodlands, meadows and berry patches. That holy trinity of corn, beans and squash will be back next summer; now the garden bears a crop that was just as important in the days before Ziploc bags of leftovers: bluestem grass, used to line in-ground storage pits. There’s also The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan , Sanderson and Haeg’s wonderful short film about the garden and the history of eating on this island we’re lucky enough to call home.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.