This past Wednesday evening we were treated to a very special evening of learning here at Lost Valley Education and Event Center. Our Executive Director, Justin Michelson, did a Sustainable Living Workshop (SLW) presentation about Edible Native Plants, available for the harvesting right here on our property — literally under our noses — at their proper time of year — mostly late spring through fall.
Justin motivated us to attend, promising tasty samples of many of the plant subjects of the evening. He also promised that he would bring a selection of potted native plants that he and another member-resident would soon be selling in their Native Plant Nursery, a micro-business they are starting here at Lost Valley.
Let me take a moment here to tell you that a rich part of this community comes to the fore during these Sustainable Living Workshops, taught from the diversity-rich bodies of knowledge carried within each of our members. It is required of each person living here that we teach two or three of these SWLs per year as a means of sharing our knowledge and passions with one another and the greater community. These events are advertised on our Facebook page and the public is encouraged to join us. Even if you don’t live close by, please Follow us and Like us.
I knew that Justin was starting this nursery and that he had been working very hard to get some of the preparations done before leaving today for his month-long, silent meditation retreat in California. However, I was unprepared for the momentous impact that his presentation would have on both me and Tomas — it was one of those life-changing events that shifted us to a new perspective and one that will continue to influence how we look and interact with our food for the rest of this lifetime.
That’s a HUGE impact!
First of all, Tomas and I had not experienced Justin’s passion OR his fluency with regard to Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest. As he began describing each plant, easily rattling off its properties, complete with Latin name, where it grows, what it looks like (he had great slides for this part) which parts are edible and what can be made from each one — my mouth dropped open and didn’t really close, except to chew some of the samples he had made from berries, seeds, nuts, bulbs and leaves.
The berries are dormant now, as are many plants. However, come summer and early fall, we can expect to eat our way from one building to the next, or along the many trails through the forest, as the elderberries, salmon berries, thimble berries, salal berries, huckle berries and blackberries ripen on the forest floor. Justin had jam to prove it and we all smacked our lips at the wild taste we don’t usually get in the domestically grown versions of berry jam.
Next we sampled crackers that he had baked himself using acorn flour and flax seed meal. The crackers were dense and dry and could not be eaten quickly like corn chips — they had to be savored slowly. What Tomas and I both noticed is how satisfying even a small amount of these foods was — there was real nutrition there. We began to understand how much “filler” is in our commercial foods, even the highest quality, organic brands. We began to realize that we tend to overeat, driven by our desire for true nutrition.
Next Justin offered us some Nettle Pesto (helped the crackers go down) and yes, that is the same “stinging” nettle plant that I wrote about in this post where we made cordage from the stems of the plant. It was delicious. Pesto does not always have to be made with basil; it can be made with many other greens, including spinach, arugula and even chickweed — something to remember as you weed your garden come spring.
Camas came next. There is a Camas Valley near Roseburg that I have traveled through many times, completely unaware that the word Camas referred to a wild onion type plant that has beautiful blue or white flowers in the spring and supplies an
onion that can be boiled or sauteed in the summer. Justin remarked that there are places that still exist where the Camas grows so prolifically and densely, that coming upon a field of Camas, one might well mistake it for a lake. He told us that Camas bulbs used to be a staple of the local native people in this area. About five acres of Camas was needed to supply the needs of each person. The bulbs were harvested, dried and stored for use through the winter.
This presentation underscored some information that Tomas and I have recently encountered in the books by Daniel Quinn known as the Ishmael series. These books described two distinct ways of life: those of the “Taker” societies and those of the “Leaver” societies. If you have not read these books, I highly recommend them. If you have (as I had 20 years ago) I invite you to re-read them. The message is very relevant NOW.
Basically, the Leavers learned to live in harmony with Nature and gather their food from the land. The Takers developed agriculture and put the food under lock and key, requiring people to work in order to eat. The Takers, because they were able to produce a surplus of food, began to increase in population, which required them to find more land to grow more food for “their” people. This led to taking land from their Leaver neighbors and either forcing them into their Taker lifestyle, driving them off of their land or killing them in order to take their land.
These various elements came together for us in a crescendo of awakening. Tomas and I could hardly sleep that night, we were so impacted by the insights we had received. We understood that we had stepped onto a path of learning and exploration that will evolve continuously over the years to come.
We realized what a dis-connect currently exists in our culture with regard to our food. We have lost touch with the simple fact that our Mother Planet, Earth, provides our nourishment. The very Earth that is right under our feet.
How much food actually is available to us on these 87 acres? Those who have lived here through “berry” season assured us that you cannot possibly eat all the berries you will find on your way from one place to the next.
How many people could really eat from what Nature grows here without any cultivation? Some of that will depend upon the production of Nature in any given year. Fruit and nut trees, for instance, do not produce the same amounts every year. They seem to take “vacations” regularly to restore and renew themselves. A lesson for humans here?
What could happen if we assisted Nature with some minimal cultivation? We do have “Forest Gardens” here where we have added native plants to forest settings, replicating nature.
We also realized that even growing our own food costs money at every step. We have to buy seeds (unless we’ve saved them) fertilizers and other nutrients to boost the soil (composting wet garbage certainly helps with this.) Sometimes we even need to buy the soil itself. Then the tools to garden, the fencing, the materials for the raised beds, if you’re going to do it that way — all kinds of costs involved in “growing your own food.” Hmmm.
I will end with a quote from the Bible that has always perplexed me. I’ve always wondered what Jesus was trying to tell us. With Justin’s exemplary presentation, combined with Dniel Quinn’s information about how we have put our food under lock and key, this passage from Matthew 6:24 – 30 is beginning to make a lot more sense to me.
25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith.”
As we move through this year and experience the bounty that Nature furnishes us from our land, I will share more with you on this topic. For now, I share that my eyes have been opened to an ancient understanding that everything was given to Man from the beginning.
The question I ask now is: Will enough of us remember this before we destroy the very Nature that could deliver us from the tyranny of having put our food under lock and key?