Crime fighters try a new way to uproot thugs and punks — weed out the flower pickers

My brother's mother-in-law, Martha, isn't poor — another of her daughters is a partner in one of the top law firms in the nation. But Martha and her girlfriends are crazy for dandelion greens.

If she's in a car and spies a patch of horta, or wild grape leaves, or wild chard, she demands that you stop so she can pick some. They smile and laugh as they pick.

It is this natural act by which immigrants are transported, out of the factories and the gray city of two-flats and back to the fields and mountain meadows of their childhood.

If only Taris were a young hipster, joined by other hipsters, the politicians would be ecstatic that people would actually visit the forest preserves to do something other than dump a dead body or get high. They'd market the foraging as a green movement.

But the horta pickers aren't hip. They're not fancy chefs. They're working people, immigrants, peasants. And now they're criminals.

Karen Vaughan, spokeswoman for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, said foraging is prohibited.

"It's unsustainable, especially when done for commercial purposes," she said. "Quite simply, we could see some of these plants disappear over time. It can also have negative impacts on the natural plant and animal communities we're trying to preserve for the public.

"In terms of dandelions specifically, although they are nonnative and considered weeds, our preserves also contain several native species that resemble dandelions to some extent, including a plant called 'false dandelion.' Most people don't distinguish between different species."

But a few oldsters picking a bag or two of dandelions is no commercial enterprise. And I don't give two fiddler's figs for the "false dandelion."

People actually using the forest preserves outweigh eco-warrior concern for fake dandelions and real ones.

You'd think the district's yearly budget of almost $200 million would be better spent on catching the body dumpers and the weirdos rather than harassing a few old people holding fast to lost ways.

But when Mr. Taris visited the area of the LaBagh Woods he calls "the jungle," he ran into a Cook County Forest Preserve cop who wasn't as understanding as Mr. Wilson.

"I'm going round behind the trees, near a fence," Taris recalled. "They can't cut the grass there. Just weeds. Just horta. And the police says, 'Hey, you. What are you doing here?'"

"I say, 'I'm doing nothing. Just collecting the dandelions.' And he says, 'Go to your car.' And then he give me the ticket.

"Seventy-five dollars for 3 pounds of dandelions? I can't imagine this is happening."

It's happening, Mr. Taris. But I expect you'll fight this in court when it comes up July 9.

If only Taris had clout, he wouldn't have to worry. But he's poor, and he's old, and he's dared to pick dandelion weeds in Chicago.

What a criminal.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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