Monday, January 24, 2011
However, I just finished reading Michael J. Fox's book "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future" , in which he said that your life can be going along smoothly and you hit a patch of ice on the road, spin off, and everything changes. That is a description of my last year and a half, and I wanted to reflect on it.
A year and a half ago, I was blissfully conducting workshops and giving lectures to awaken American's to their wild food heritage and growing Dandy Blend (the business) very successfully.
Having reached the age of 70, I was struggling with a lot of arthritis in the knees, and doing some water therapy. All of a sudden my left hip went out, and my left leg went numb. As months went by, I graduated from one walker to a more sophisticated one, had to give up therapy because I could no longer get there, and was told by my ostepath that it was just the hip going out-- I'd have to replace it. Going up and down stairs was next to impossible, so we arranged to build a one level house near our children who were working the Dandy Blend business with us, and moved. (that is making a long story really, really short).
In July 2010, my wife retired. We went on Medicare and supplements, and I changed doctors. I had an MRI; it showed a textbook example of spinal stenosis. So I scheduled a lamenectomy and spinal fusion for L 3, 4 and 5 for December.
We moved in November, they operated in December. It is now January and I am back home from 4 weeks of undergoing therapy in a nursing home, and am progressing nicely, hopefully to a time when I can go back to doing lectures and workshops. Meanwhile, the kids are running the Dandy Blend business, and have taken over the tasks that kept me from what I most enjoy doing. So when I AM well enough, I won't be tied down and can get back on the road with the motor home and travel.
One thing the last few years has demonstrated to me has been an example of Fox's reflection that the limitations that come upon us are really a gift, not an impediment. When we first are restricted, we fight it, not wanting to admit that we can't do what we always have done. However, when it is clear we will no longer be able to live life according to the old status quo,and resign ourselves to it, we ask "what are we left with-- what capabilities do we still have", and find that we still have our voices, and can still teach. I realized that the time has now come to teach others in our family and others interested in doing what I do HOW I do it. We become mentors, passing down what we've learned to those on their way up.
And so that is the way it is. The family is now ready to take over the family business, and I am very proud of them.
We have a new website at www.dandyblend.com , and I will have a blog in there where I can share Dandy Blend things with you. This blog will stay open to share insights I get on life that I might want to incorporate into articles or books sometime in the future. Be well.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"While I acknowledge that there is a certain small percentage of kids who are "responsible" and competent enough to make life-changing decisions (and, in a pinch, a lot of them/us must/have to), my bet is that kids make way more "bad" decisions than adults. The way you express this point sure put me in mind of my girl-child who, as an exasperated tween-ager, declared, "kids should rule the world, not adults!". I also bet that, in hunter/gatherer societies, gathering wild food was a multi-generational activity relying heavily on the expertice and guidance of the older members."
My original response to this :
"I have three kids: Karin and Kevin each knew and could be predictably expected to bring home the right stuff for at least 25 wild edibles by the time they were 4 and a half or 5 years old. Kori, who came along 16 years later, knew at least that many by the time she was 5 and was leading field walks to point out edibles to adults by the time she was 7. In Kaiserslauten, W. Germany, foraging is part of the kindergarten curriculum, and the kids go about harvesting lunch for themselves many times out of the year (personal testimonial from one of my graduate students who grew up in Kaiserslauten). Throughout Europe, children learn by participating with their parents on foraging outings (personal experience in France, Germany and Italy), from around the time they are old enough to walk.
The best way to teach plant taxonomy is to teach it to kids under the age of 6. It sticks for a lifetime!!"
Kat Morgenstern agreed:
I totally second what Peter says - learning by doing is the best way to teach kids about plants. I grew up in West Berlin, right in the city, yet learned to forage by time I was 5. My greatest vacation pleasures were my foraging jaunts in Scandinavia, picking wild strawberries, blue berries, raspberries and more, and also learning about poisonous plants. I can attest to what Peter said about the kindergarten education in Germany. Although I did not learn anything that useful at school or kindergarten, I now have a second home in the south of Germany and there they have so called Waldkindergarten' --basically Kindergartens that entirely take place outdoors, in the woods. Of course kids that are exposed to the elements like that will know the woodlands like the bottom of their foraging bag by the time they are old enough to go to school."
Kat Morgenstern, Sacred Earth Educational Forum and Networking Resource for Ethnobotany and Ecotravelhttp://www.sacredearth.comMany of the posts responding to the original premise--that kids shouldn't be left alone to forage till they are 18 or so-- I am pleased to say, commented along the lines of Kat and testified to their and their children's positive experiences of foraging as young people. Intriguingly, several are from those, like Kat, raised or living in Europe, where the capabilities of young children is much more highly respected than seems to be the case here in the US. I don't know where we have gone wrong, but in my humble opinion, the problem with kids in the US is parents who don't respect what they are able to do, and, hence, don't talk to them and work with them as if they were little adults.
For those of you, like the author of the original post at the top of this blog, who find it incredulous that children, treated with respect, given responsibilities around the house and yard from a young age, and talked to as you would talk to and respect an adult, will develop into responsible young people at a very young age, let me tell you a story.
Part of my academic research for the last 38 years has been as a participant-observer anthropologist among the Northern Ohio Amish settlement, becoming part of several families over the years, and involving my university students in their lives as part of their education. What I have been looking for, and documenting, has been the lessons we have to learn from their lifestyle.
It is important to know that the Amish, a conservative Christian sect that originated in Germanic regions of Europe in the 1500's and began coming to the US in the 1700's, live lives separate from mainstream society, largely by the same rules they followed several centuries ago in Europe. They have no electricity, drive buggies, have limited access to phones, plow their fields with horses, and dress in 1800's style clothing.
Each class I taught at Cleveland State University had a three day Amish field experience designed to introduce students to the Amish way of dealing with the issues that were the subject of the class.
One year, I had a group of over 20 students aged 18 to 25 at dinner that was prepared for us by an Amish family. After dinner, the family had a practice of involving my kids in parlor games that were common in families that had no TV and radio and had to entertain each other in more old fashioned ways. For one game, an 8-year-old Amish boy got up to lead the game. As he was explaining the rules, it was obvious that he was a very confident and competent young man. At one point, his mother questioned a particular rule, and he, respectfully,graciously, gently and kindly, suggested that the rule was correct, as she would see as the game got underway. He handled himself in communicating with my students, all of whom were much older than he was, with the confidence and the assuredness of an adult. The rules were correct, and the game went very smoothly, and was a lot of fun.
I was impressed. By that time, my 11 year old son was becoming a bit hard to handle and I was looking for ideas, and I thought I'd look more deeply into why little Raymond Fisher was so adult-like at the age of 8.
I learned that Amish kids get involved in the family business--whether it be farming, home management, gardening, bringing in wood, a woodworking shop, or whatever-- when they were old enough to do simple chores-- usually around the age of 3. Working together with siblings, uncles, father, mother, and maybe other relatives at various times, they mastered the job they were doing, and once they were capable of doing something more advanced, graduated to that, and so on, until by the time they were 8 or 9, they could run half the farm, or half the house, or whatever. It is common to see 6 and 7 years olds, often girls, out mowing lawns with push mowers, one pulling with a head band and the other pushing, or boys of 8 or 9 plowing a field with a two-horse hitch. (One of the great stories the Amish love to tell is about a father who took his 8 year-old boy out into the field to plow for the first time. He instructed him that, in order to plow straight furrows, aim the horses at something in the distance and plow toward it. Then when he gets there, turn around, aim at something at the other end, and repeat it. The father then went off to do other chores, and came back around noon to pick the boy up to go in to lunch. To his chagrin, there wasn't a straight furrow in the field. The father said "I thought I told you to aim at something in the distance and plow toward it. What happened?" " I did, dad, but the cow kept moving!")
Anyway, by treating their children as little adults, giving them adult responsibilities, praising them when they do well, helping them get better when they need more instruction, and even adopting good ideas made by the children about how to improve the work , the children grow up with a sense of self-importance, self confidence, and devotion to their family members that doesn't happen when kids are treated like children. Over the last 30+ years I have seen this over and over in the Amish families I know.
After learning the practice, I adapted it to the raising of my children, and in every case, the result was the same as what I had seen with my Amish friends. They are all adults now, and doing the same with their children. A grandson and granddaughter have been involved in the family business since they were "tweenagers" ---9 and 10 years old-- and their maturity and ability has carried over into their school work and sports activities as they have grown into their teens.
This is the greatest thing you can do with children, and teaching children to identify plants when they are young as many of the respondents to this thread have alluded to, is one of the best ways to get started. I have to admit that I got started doing it when Kevin was 3, and he learned the plants and has never forgotten them, However, as he got older and I got busier, I slacked off, and needed the Amish experience to remind me about the way to raise responsible children.
Good luck. Hope this is of some use to some of you.
Monday, November 24, 2008
We live today in interesting and scary times–times in which the majority of Americans have virtually disconnected themselves from the land around them and all of the valuable gifts it contains.
Today, when money runs out and people are hungry, they go to food pantries. If THEY are out, they have no idea where to turn. It is the rare person or family who will scavenge in the trash bins behind grocery stores, and even rarer those who know which of the plants they are walking over every day are edible, and will stoop down, grab the leaves, and graze on them.
For most of the people in the world, this is not a problem. They know where to find food. Roughly 90% of the world’s population still gets part or all of its meals by foraging, hunting or fishing for them. In early spring, Italian women scavenge the hillsides for the young, tender spring greens– the dandelions and their relatives that are such delicacies for them. So do the French, the Germans, the Lebanese, the Greeks, and people in at least some 64 other countries. In England, backyard gardeners devote one whole raised bed to what they call their "wild garden," where they purposely cultivate what we would call weeds to supplement their supply of the same plants they find growing uncultivated among their tomatoes and onions; they want to make sure they have enough of the specific ingredients they need for particular recipes. Betzy Sullivan, Eastern European reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, when asked what the Beemer crowd did when evacuated from their expensive condos in Sarayevo during the Bosnian war, said “they went to the country, arranged with a landowner to build a shelter, and reverted to living off the wild plants growing there that they learned to eat as children and still knew well enough to go back to.”
It is only in America that we turn our backs on the wealth of tasty and nutritious foods that we literally walk over each day– the foods that are growing beneath our feet.
But this wasn’t always so. During the Great Depression and World War II that followed it, as well as in all times preceding it, it was common practice, at least for rural folks, to enjoy those plants which have since become known as “weeds” for many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Mrs. Ann Kadlececk of Phillips, Wisconsin said that “It was the custom to rely on the land to provide the healthiest foods a homemaker could prepare for her family. There were lambsquarters early in spring and mushrooms by the pails full. Women knew how to cook and it had little to do with finances. The eggs and lambsquarters are something we still wait for each spring.”
It was that way with my family also. Back in 1948, my father died and left us with no money. My mother had no skills to support a family, but a friend told us that we could “live on lambsquarters” until she developed some.. Today, had she said that, she would have been laughed out of the kitchen. But then it was not unusual advice, because most Americans grew gardens and were familiar with what the soil had to offer. We knew that we were surrounded by mysterious wonders waiting to be discovered and harnessed for our use, and just needed someone knowledgeable to unlock the secrets. For us, that someone was Agnes Mare, a neighbor and friend from down the street.
For the next six months, while my mother learned a couple of trades that would earn her enough money to support us, my six-year-old brother and nine-year-old self would spend the early mornings before school gathering the young tops of lambsquarters and bringing them into the kitchen where mother would make the most amazing spinach dishes from them. For, after all, that is all that lambsquarters is– a wild spinach.
Lambsquarters was so good, in fact, that it got me to wondering what other plants growing underfoot were equally tasty and nutritious, and that wonder spring-boarded me into what has become my life’s work.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
Mother learned a skill, became a door-to-door saleswoman for Avon Products, then a sales person at Sears, and finally a clerk for the City of Pasadena, California, where she stayed until retirement and provided a good living for our family. I got older, and my interest in wild plants --replaced by an interest in girls, sports, and cars– faded into the depths of my memories to maybe be reawakened sometime later.
That “later” came sooner than I would have thought, however.
In 1956, the summer of my 16th year, I went to work in a sawmill in Northern California. I was big and strong for my age, and more than a little bit independent. My uncle had this friend who owned a series of sawmills nestled in amongst the California redwoods, and, in the course of a conversation with my mother, suggested that a summer in the woods would do me good. I thought so too.
So it was arranged. After I had finished my junior year in high school in 1956, a friend and I loaded my red ‘51 Ford pickup truck with camping gear and headed north along the Pacific Coast on US 101, which at the time was mostly a two-lane highway. The route took us past vast fields of vegetables growing in the blazing sun and the Monterrey Bay area depicted in so many of John Steinbeck’s novels, on up through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge. We continued north into the California wine region, where grapevines were growing everywhere, and finally reached the Redwood region of Willits and Weed, Scotia and Rio Dell.
We never knew California was such an extensive state– reaching over 1500 miles from bottom to top. We had started in Los Angeles, only a hundred miles or so from the Mexican border. Our destination was near the top, just south of Eureka, around a hundred miles south of the Oregon border. The challenge two adventurous but inexperienced 15-year-old kids had taken on was to traverse almost 1300 miles of mostly two-lane road and arrive in one piece, ready to go to work, in less than a week. We camped nights under the stars, and made breakfast in the morning on our little Coleman stove. We would drive from early morning till late afternoon, find a campground, and settle in for the evening, getting used to the equipment which would populate our bedroom and kitchen for the next two months.
After four days, we crossed into Humboldt County, and were greeted by a strange and wonderful, but totally different, land than we had been used to. Interspersed between the redwood stands were lush, fertile, green pastures filled with Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey cows, cone incinerators that burned the waste from the sawmills with wisps of smoke breaking the clear blue of the sky, and quaint little towns, each with its own four-lane bowling alley, gas station, general store, and shiny silver diner made from old rail cars. It was a totally new world for us, and we liked what we saw.
We arrived in Fortuna, the main market town for the dairy farmers and loggers alike, in late morning on the fourth day. We picked up some food and other supplies, got directions, and headed east on the narrow, winding country road leading to Carlotta, where we would be working for the next two months. On the way, we passed through Hydesville, another quaint farming village. After Hydesville, the road wound into the hills and, an hour later, we were in Carlotta, which, as far as we could tell, was nothing more than two sawmills, a general store and a post office. Not even a diner or gas station! Now all we had to do was figure out where we were going to live.
At the Post Office, we learned that there were plenty of campgrounds up the road–including Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. The most intriguing, however, was a place managed by Strong’s Station, an old stagecoach stop along the road between Fortuna to Red Bluff (a town on the other side of the mountain). This was a private redwood grove, owned by Hammond Lumber Company, through which the Van Dusen River, from which we could get our water and in which we could take our baths, ran. It was beautiful and very quiet, and we assumed that we would be able to live comfortably and peacefully there for the next two months.
We soon learned that “comfortably and peacefully ” weren’t quite the right words, but we had no way of knowing what adventures were coming our way when we plunked down our $12 a week camping fee on that first day. We unlocked the gate to the redwood grove, went in, locked the gate behind us, drove down the dirt track through the giant trees, and found the perfect place to set up camp on a bluff overlooking the river.
What a summer it turned out to be! The adventures started the first night and included, but were not limited to, the following:
● That first night it rained–hard– and, not having ditched the tent,we got flooded out. Our sleeping bags were soaked, our clothes were soaked, and, since the rain wasn’t about to stop, we had no way to dry things out. So we slept in wet sleeping bags and wore wet clothes for the next two days.
● Bathing wasn’t as easy as we were led to believe. The water was ice cold, and the only good way to get into water deep enough to bathe in was by diving off a 16 foot cliff into four feet of water. My buddy Bill, fortunately, was a competitive swimmer and diver, and taught me how to make shallow dives. So, every afternoon when we got home, we’d strip down and dive in, soap in hand, to wash off the day’s grime. It was exhilarating at first, but after about a week, we got used to it, and soon began taking our unusual method of entering our ice-cold bathtub for granted.
● Fascinating people attached themselves to us. One was Dutch, for whom we provided lodging, or at least a place to pitch camp for about three weeks. Dutch, last name unknown, was the millwright (or sawmill mechanic-troubleshooter) in the mill where we worked. He was only there for part of the two months, but the reason for that will come later in the story. The thing about Dutch is that he was a turtle. Everything he owned– all his clothes, bedding, cooking gear, food supplies, toiletries, anything he needed– was contained in his ‘50 Chevy panel sedan with “Bluebird Cleaners” written on the side. He traveled everywhere in it, and when he was done traveling for the day, he slept in it. From the first night on he was our cook, conjuring up the most remarkable meals in his Dutch oven, which he buried in a pit each morning, covered with hot rocks and dirt, and dug out when we got home each evening. After dinner, it was story after story of life in the logging camps and sawmills and the quirky personalities that he had known in his days. Oh, how I wish I could remember even one of those stories, but I don’t. I did learn, however, valuable lessons about living a successful nomadic life which has stood me in good stead ever since as I travel this grand country in my motor home conducting workshops on edible wild plants. Intrigued by Dutch’s example, I, too, have become a turtle, at least part-time.
● The story wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning the two teenage girls who came camping in our woods one weekend, and became our girlfriends for the summer. Wonderful memories, and lessons in sharing for Bill and I, as we had to schedule the pickup truck so each would have enough time to go to Fortuna for private time with our respective girl. The hills around Fortuna were never more beautiful than on those nights, sitting in that pickup truck looking out over the dairy farms in the valley with a delightful, soft, and cuddly companion by my side. (I'm surely glad that trucks can't talk and embarrass us with the tales they'd have to tell.) From this standpoint, (and most others for that matter) for me, summer ended all too soon.
● They, however, weren’t the only girls who impacted on our lives during that summer in our peaceful and pristine redwood forest. There was also that weekend when a twenties-something (could have been thirties-something, I suppose, but she looked good to us) singer, who was booked to perform at Strong’s Station, and her two “handlers” parked their travel trailer across from our tent in the woods. The pheromones she was giving off were overwhelming, and during their stay there, we romanced her as much as we dared, always aware of potential retribution which might be meted out on us by her two goons should we happen to explore too deeply into our options. We more-or-less minded our manners, and parted company peaceably when her contract was completed.
● Pulling green chain (removing fresh, rough-cut lumber from a rapidly moving conveyor belt and stacking it in proper piles) next to a wiry 66 year-old man who was still working as hard and making the same wage as I was, helped me realize that, when I was 66 years old, I didn’t want to still be doing the same thing. I decided right then and there to make something more of my talents, so that I wouldn’t be stuck in a dead-end job with no retirement or medical benefits when I arrived at my dotage. I wanted my golden years to be a bit more golden than that.
● What surprised me the most, however, was how small and wiry, but incredibly strong, the average logger and sawmill worker was. I went into the woods at 6'3" and 240 lbs of solid muscle, and got harder and stronger the longer I stayed there, so that by the time we left for home and started back to school, I was probably the strongest and best-built student at Rosemead High school. By contrast, NONE of the men I worked with were over 5’ 8" or 5' 9", and practically all were thin and wiry. However, there wasn’t one of them whom I could beat at arm wrestling even by the end of summer. There also was none of them whom I would have wanted to be angry with me and then meet in a dark alley at night.
● Life in the woods was hard for these guys, and, while they were fascinating characters, they were more than a little rough around the edges. There were lots of drunken nights at local bars, wives leaving husbands and vice versa for what they perceived as “greener pastures”, and the periodic fight. We made friends with one of our co-workers named Claude Batty, who lived in a shanty with his wife and a couple of kids. One day, we went home with him at lunch and found that his wife had run off with a guy she had met at the bar, leaving him and the children to fend for themselves. He was heart-broken, and we, being young and inexperienced in such things, had no way of consoling him.
● One characteristic of many of these men, especially the day-workers–-management was more responsible–- was that they would seek work after they had run out of money, work hard until they had earned enough to go on another drunken binge, quit, and then come back to work again at the same mill or another one when they had again run out of money, and this cycle kept repeating itself. It didn’t matter if they were married or not. Years later I discovered that this was true also of blue-collar workers in the woods and blueberry packing plants of Maine. They were interesting, rough, but playful guys who were full of stories to tell– a fascinating crowd from whom to learn about that particular perspective on life. What you learned mostly, however, was how NOT to live your life if you wanted to be really happy. I’ve learned, over the years, that those often are the best and most useful lessons, and stick the longest in your head.
● Driving the 20 miles or so in to work and back home each day started out as a very scary adventure. Rt 36 was a narrow former stagecoach route that crossed the mountain between Fortuna and Red Bluff. Over the years, it had been paved, but not widened very much. Logging trucks, both empty and full, considered this road their very own, and, even when the fog was thick, would come barreling around the tight corners at death-defyng speeds. Time was everything, and their continued employment depended on them getting logs to the mill and returning for a new load as fast as possible. Fortunately, they were masters of the road, and no matter how fast or dangerous it seemed, they rarely drifted over the center line into our lane. Within a couple of weeks, we came to know the road as well as they did, and long before the end of summer, we were matching them in speed and agility in our little red ‘51 Ford pickup.
There were lots of other memories of those two months in the woods. The little general store at about the halfway point with its old-fashioned crank telephone, and crackers with a layer of raisins smushed in the middle that were so good that I practically lived on them are a couple. But probably the most significant action I took that summer, in looking back, was making friends with the Ashcraft boys, Donnie and Dickie. They worked with us in the mill but lived with their parents, Ruby and Dick, in town. Ruby was the town Postmistress, and Dick was the foreman at the Carlotta Mill, across the street from the Southern Humbolt Mill where we worked. Both mills were owned by Orban Lumber Company, which was captained by my uncle's friend.
The Ashcrafts adopted us and involved us in whatever they were doing as a family as if we were their own sons. This included going berry picking almost every afternoon after work while the berries were in season. These huckleberries, salmonberries and other treats, the names of which I don’t remember any longer, became the ingredients for some of the most luscious pies and jams I have ever tasted.
The other item of defining significance was stripping the ripe cherries from the wild black cherry tree in the field next to our camp, from which we could only get the cherries by psyching out the bull in the field next to the tree.
It was the berries and the cherries that reawakened my curiosity about “what else in the wild would make good food,” and set me off in the direction which has become my career. From then on, I was looking for wild harvests whereever I went, whether they were cumquats, persimmons or wild greens, and for stories from the people who valued them as food and medicine.
It was during the summer of 1956 that I began asking and observing and learning everything I could about how people used wild plants to enhance their lives. While I started college a couple of years later (I put in some military service time between high school and college) as an animal husbandry major, within a year I had switched to biology, and by my junior year to botany. The last happened when I, being lazy, realized that zoologists had to run after animals. Plants stayed put.
I have now spent my last 52 years learning how various cultures use backyard weeds and other wild plants for food and medicine, and have written eight books and countless magazine articles about it, as well as conducting workshops and seminars and giving keynote speeches at conferences in the US and Europe. This pursuit has taken me into fields, farmhouses and dairy barns all over Europe, Canada, and the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, both learning and teaching what I have learned to others.
When I entered college, I noticed that all my friends were majoring in what they felt would give them enough money to take two weeks off each year to do what they wanted to do. I said. “No way. I want two 6 month paid vacations a year.” So I decided what I would do on vacation and majored in it. And, except for about eight years in my 40's, that is exactly what I have been doing.
And that is how what I became fascinated by when I was nine years old has become what I have done on my 52 year "paid vacation."
Peter A. Gail, Ph.D.
Goosefoot Acres Center for Resourceful Living.
Friday, October 31, 2008
"You can always fish with the wrong lures or bait, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and complain about how hard it is. Some hunters almost never get a deer. Some do easily. Efficiency in foraging is about having skills and knowledge and experience, not about trying things a few times as a novice and then making premature conclusions about things we are only slightly familiar with. Certainly there are a lot of people with ridiculous notions about learning 3 green vegetables and then going into the wilderness and living off of them. Those fantasies have no bearing on reality, though. There is a lot more than greens out there, even if people don't know about it."
I bristle at the suggestion that living for a time primarily off of three green vegetables is a "ridiculous notion". It is a place to start, and I know of many people who have at least started that way, especially in and after the Great Depression. My family and I lived on a diet primarily made of lambsquarters for six months back in the late '40's, and a friend supplemented the meagre rations of a German concentration camp by grazing on dandelion leaves for two years during WWII.
I always go back to the reality that no matter how much people contend that living off the land is difficult, the world is filled with native peoples who have lived since the beginning on nothing but what the land provides, and they are still here. They have developed the knowledge and skill to make do with what they have been given, and their bodies are adapted to the reality that sometimes they may have to go hungry for a while.
Most of us who teach survival skills don't live that way day-by-day, and certainly not a year at a time, or a whole lifetime, knowing nothing else, like these native peoples do.
The longest I have gone at one stretch was two months one summer while doing research for my doctoral dissertation, and I had little trouble doing it for that long. There was plenty of plant foods and fish available to keep me fed and healthy, and my base camp, with all the implements and shelters and furniture I had made, stayed in one place, so I didn't have to keep remaking them in new locations. Flint and steel worked just fine for starting fires when I ran out of matches. I never had to do anything with a fire piston or bow drill, and still haven't mastered either of them, although I have friends that have.
But I had arrived at that place after providing for myself off the land for varying periods of time in various habitats for 16 or 17 years prior to it, and it was just part of my life.
People have to realize that there are really no shortcuts to learning the skills for living off the land. It takes time and comes step-by-step.
But that raises the question about what the FIRST step is. The first step, quite frankly, my friend Sam, is to get people started, and to do that you teach them a few common plants that are easily identified and abundant in their area, and motivate them to begin using them regularly in their diet. Once that has become a habit, you introduce them to a few more. Somewhere along the way, they get excited by their new discoveries, and that jump-starts them to begin exploring on their own until, finally, their facility with this new-found way of living begins to develop.
So, my friend, you START with green vegetables, usually the dark green, nutrient-dense invasive types like dandelions, plantain, stinging nettle and lambsquarters. This is not the "be all and end all" of "survival training". But for many people, if that is all they have, and the plants are abundant in their urban or suburban surroundings, they CAN get enough nutrients to keep going for extended periods of times if supplemented by small quantities of less nutritious, but calorie rich, domestic foods such as tubers and familiar nuts and fruits. Knowing something is better than not knowing anything.
I, too, find interesting how hard most people think it is to do such things as separate dandelion florets from the involucral bracts and receptacle, and how amazed they are when shown how easy it is, and how fast you can generate a cup of florets to include in a recipe. The truth is that in every profession, it takes a long time to develop skills to the level that you can do the job fast enough to make a living at it. I have an Amish friend who wanted to be an upholsterer, but had to wait until his son was old enough to work and help support the family before he could devote enough time to developing the skills to end up upholstering enough furniture each day to make enough to support his family on his own. Same with cabinet making, electrical and plumbing work-- anything.
As you so often emphasize yourself, there are no shortcuts. Becoming knowledgeable and skilled in anything is a slow, plodding process, often involving years in college, or as an apprentice, or in some other training program. You have spent a lifetime developing your skills, and you are very good at what you do. You can teach one skill to someone very quickly, such as how to identify and use bitternut hickory, and if they are surrounded by them, they can live on that one plant for as long as it lasts, but that knowledge wouldn't do them any good if they were on a survival trip in spring or summer, unless they had stored enough for use then.
Hence, the inability to pass on a lifetime of skills in a two-hour class session. It is better to pass on enough knowledge about a few long-season plants to start people on their journey and get excited about it, and then let them develop from there.
Having said that, I'm not about to challenge you in a wild rice gathering contest. But come on down and we'll see who can peel dandelion flowers the fastest!! Gotta get the rhythm...........
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Anyway, hear what he has to say, and then read my comments following. This is particularly pertinent for those who contend that you can't get enough nutrition to survive solely from plant foods:
In a message dated 10/29/2008 8:15:26 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
I've been reading posts from this group for ages and at first I only joined because I wanted to know what people in the "west" ate apart from buying from a super market. I was horrified when I met series of people from America and Europe who had never actually eaten what we call "normal" or uncultivated or wild foods. When I spoke with my mom about how fantastic this group was, she looked seriously unimpressed and asked me whether I'd completely lost it. And then it came to me that uncultivated or wild food is nothing new in our culture. It's always there, especially for the poor. The whole notion of 'weed' doesn't really exist.
It's only in the large cities like Mumbai/Bombay or Delhi that people are forgetting the range of veggies, roadside greens and tubers, uncultivated plants growing between rows of domestic farm crops, aquatic plants, small fish and shellfish in local ponds and streams, and small animals. But even here we still pick from nearby trees and parks and gardens. A very everyday domestic occurence is the picking of the buds, flowers and young leaves of the kachhnar tree (I think it's the bauhinia), the sainjan ki phali (means the fruit of the drumstick tree), and millions of other things that are incorporated in the diet without us actually noting them down. In rural India these are what sustain a large chunk of the families. Sometimes as much as 50 to 60 percent of the diet comprises "wild foods".
It is I suppose pretty much a labour intensive job collecting these and as a result they cannot possibly have any market value (which is sometimes a dashed good thing, considering what GM foods has done to a major portions of the indigenous plant varieties in this country, with active participation from the Indian government and the thoroughly stupid and ignorant bureaucrats).
In most rural areas agriculture of the poor is characterised by the celebration of bio-diversity of their lands. Sometimes a minimum of 8 to 12 crops are grown by them at the same time and space on their lands. The diversity of their fields and lands is their way of celebrating nature and establishing a communion with it. A major reason for this spiritual celebration of diversity is the fact that,over the millenia, uncultivated foods have been the source of life for the poor. Many types of green leaves are consumed as veggies and most are rich sources of calcium, iron, carotene, vitamin C, riboflavin and folic acid. There is a voluntary rural development organisation called the Deccan Development Society which has been working in Medak district over the last two and a half decades that has been looking into the role of uncultivated foods here. Another strange thing that happens here is that some wild plants are gathered and consumed by all sections of a local community and some are consumed by only a group/or a particular caste.
I realise that a large part of my post is not really relevant to this group but I keep getting the feeling that for the poorer people living in western countries it is cheaper to eat a McDonald's burger than to eat clean food. And it is only people who are well-to-do who can afford to go foraging or eat organic food. Warm regards
Most of this post is incredibly relevant to this group, especially those who are contending that wild plant foods don't provide enough nutrition to sustain people. Plant foods are not just leaves, which, granted, have few calories. However,they DO have a full range of vitamin and mineral nutrients, along with some protein, carbohydrates, and fats. But when people "graze" throughout the year, they eat not only the leaves, but also the roots, shoots, buds, fruits and other parts as they become edible. Many of these parts are much richer in calories. If you know a range of plants that produce different edible parts throughout the year, you are getting a range of nutrients AND calories in your diet. You are very seldom eating just leaves.
Uncultivated plant foods,as part or all of the diet, sustain a great majority of the people of the world every day of their lives, supplemented by occasional animal foods. A good bit of the world is vegetarian, and gets along quite well on the food that they automatically harvest as they walk by it. In most cases, as Madhavi said, they take this food for granted, and don't think of it any differently than they do the stuff they plant and cultivate.
When I taught at Cleveland State University, my students were assigned an oral history project in which they interviewed their older relatives to determine the wild foods they had once eaten, or in some cases were still eating. Most American kids didn't know what I was talking about, and asked me for examples. When I showed them pictures of the plants, they recoiled, exclaiming "Yuk, those are just weeds. Who would eat those?" Students from the Middle-East, Southern Europe, Germany and elsewhere also came up to me and thanked me for showing them what plants I was talking about. They said that they would never have thought of these plants, because in their countries they weren't "weeds" at all, but just part of the herbs they ate every day. Now that they knew the plants I was talking about, they could write volumes about their experiences with them.
In 2004, I had the honor to be one of the delegates and presenters at the first Terra Madre Conference in Turin Italy, hosted by Slow Food International. As part of my participation, I had organized a session on "Hunting and Gathering Economics-- The Role of Wild Food in the Cultures of the World." Sitting next to me on the dias, and presenting after me, was a Native Siberian, dressed elegantly in her elaborately-beaded tribal regalia. When she got up to speak, she told of their native diet of wild foods and hunted game and fish that had sustained her people since the beginning of time, and how the government was establishing rules to make foraging a criminal offense, punishable by jail time. She appealed to the 5000 delegates from 130 countries present at the conference to come to their aid in persuading their government to drop this pursuit.
When I taught in Europe back in the 1980's, I discovered the extent to which the common people in England, France, Germany, and Italy rely on the wild edibles that volunteer in their gardens and in the fields around them to add diversity and excitement to their diet. Italians can't wait till spring to harvest the young, mostly Asteraceous (sunflower family) greens for salads and cooked greens. Dandelions and chicories (which they call "Chigoda") are the chief ones, and in some places in rural Italy are almost the regional vegetables. The English and Belgians, when "weeding" their gardens, put all the uncultivated as well as cultivated edibles in their colanders, and take them inside to use in their cooking. One Belgian farmer's wife used stinging nettles from their farm to make two rounds of delicious stinging nettle cheese a week, which she sent to market. I bought a portion of it at the cheesemonger's stand in the weekly Kendal Market in the Lake District of England, and reveled in its tangy flavor.
As much as half of these people's yearly harvest is made up of plants which volunteer in their garden. Many even have a section they call their "wild garden", in which they encourage the growth of favorite wild vegetables so that if they come up short,in their "weeding", of the ingredients they need for a recipe they want to make that evening, they can go to this special plot and supplement their harvest. n.
So, thank you, Madhavi, for the first person testimonial about the value and commonality of these foods. The reality in most countries is that the bulk of the population is "poor". Very few are "rich", and only a relatively few more are even middle- or upper-lower- class enough to be able to afford to get all their needs met by purchasing them from stores. "Only in America" is it "cheaper to go to McDonald's for a burger than it is to eat clean food", as you say.
A final reflection on Madhavi's observation that in America it is "only people who are well-to-do who can afford to go foraging." It is not so much an economic issue as it is a mind-set issue. Here, poor people have become conditioned to the idea that only bought things have value and command respect. Foraging is viewed by those of that mind-set as a "dirty activity." It is an affront to their dignity to get their hands dirty harvesting "weeds" to eat. People who do that aren't respected, and respect is everything in their eyes. Besides, they wouldn't know which wild plants were which anyway.
Peter A. Gail, Ph.D.
Goosefoot Acres Center for Resourceful Living
3283 E. Fairfax Road, Cleveland OH 44118
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I am prompted to post now because of a thread on Martial Law and Food, and the possibility that the domino effect will put everyone out of jobs and there won't be any food in the supermarkets, and such-like, that has appeared on the ForageAhead listserv in the past couple of weeks. After it had gone on ad-infinitum and gotten more and more bizarre, about not enough rats and pigeons to feed everyone in New York City, so you'd have to find other things, some of us began to say "Too much, already. Let's get on to other things." Here is what got me cranked up---pammunkey's post which said:
"I think this whole discussion is alarmist; kinda reminds me of those folks who hole up in caves waiting for the world to end. I think it's much more likely that areas of the country might suffer a natural or man-made disaster, and if you're stuck there, you might have to resort to foraging in the absence of dependable supplies of food and water. Even that might be a stretch.
To which I responded:
"WAIT, WAIT..........You mean I don't have to stay in this hole anymore?
Whew. What a relief!
The reality, folks, is that nobody can take away what is in your head. If you begin learning which plants are edible and how to use them, how to find water, how to make shelters (and maybe better yet, have some shelters already earmarked and prepared), and go about it quietly and systematically, when you need the information, you will have it. It is an evolving thing, not something you have to race to do something about. The key is not to wait till the last two months to get started.
Back in the old Y2K days, I was on the lecture circuit with a couple of Y2K expo producers. 6 months before the end of the year, I'd get 50 or 60 people for each lecture, but as we got closer to the end of the year, the crowds began swelling -- at first to 100 or so, and in November and December 200 and more-- in each case basically asking me to teach them all that I know in 2 hours. In college, we called this "cramming" . In survival, it's just plain stupid. What has to happen is for each person who wants to be prepared to begin learning one new thing about living off the resources around you every day or so, and begin practicing it. Got lambsquarters in your yard? Start harvesting the young tops and making spinach dishes out of them. Find some Oxalis? Make some sorrel soup out of it. And so on. Just keep adding to your knowledge. You drive by a secluded rural property that looks interesting? Look into it and see if it suits you. If so, buy it, and fit it out as an escape location for your family. Build an appropriate shelter, find water, etc. and then it is there.
In truth, we are not worrying about feeding the whole city of New York on rats or pigeons. All we care about is ourselves, our family, and maybe some of our friends, all of whom we might be able to accommodate on that little secluded piece of land, and feed on the wild plants around there, and on the fish in the pond if we have one, and on animals we can harvest from the land. Learn the skills to do that, practice them on the land, and when the time comes YOU will be ready. There never will be a time that everyone will want to do this, so don't worry about everyone. Just be ready to take care of yourself using what is around you.
At least that is the way I am approaching it. This really isn't rocket
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
My apologies for all the repetition in the past few blogs. I am doing this, quite frankly, to conveniently save writings that I will want to use for various purposes over the next year or so, in a place where I can find them easily. In each, I present much of the same information, but expressed in different ways. My suggestion to those of you who have been following these writings over the past months is to quickly scan a new blog to see if it says something in a way that catches your attention, or imagination, in a different way than was done before. If you find something particularly good, please let me know in a comment. That will help me decide which wording to choose for the introductory chapter of the new book I am working on. Thanks.
Here is a press release I prepared this morning for the Edible Wild Plant Workshop we will be conducting on Saturday, August 9 at Lucky Penny Farm in Garrettsville OH. For more information and/or to register for it, contact Abbe Turner at 330 527 0548, or at email@example.com. Last year it attracted over 170 people, of which 50 had to be turned away for lack of space. This year, there will be three two hour sessions starting at 9:00 a.m., so we can hopefully accommodate all who want to participate. To make sure you are one of them, however, please get your reservation in within the next couple of weeks.
Life goes in cycles. There are years of plenty—plenty of food, plenty of money, low gas prices—and years where all the negatives seem to line up in a row and threaten to crush us, like now. High oil prices help us realize, by all the things in our life that now cost more, how much we depend on oil.
The result of all these increases? More and more people are finding that they don’t have enough income to pay rent AND buy food! Realities we never thought we’d face are now here and changing our priorities. We are beginning to look for help and at least some of the solutions relate to buying our food from local growers to save on transportation costs.
“At least part of the answer for providing food locally lies right outside our back door,” says Dr. Peter Gail, Director of Goosefoot Acres Center for Resourceful Living, in Cleveland OH. “It’s organic, free and there’s absolutely nothing more local than food growing 6 feet from your kitchen door.”
These vegetables grow in cracks between your patio stones, in your flower beds, plant containers, around the corners of your garage or barn, in your vegetable garden and in unsprayed lawns. And they are real vegetables—plants brought here over the last 200 years by our ancestors as food and medicine, and still used by the cultural groups that brought them, both here and in their homeland.
Up until now, we have called these plants “weeds”, and spent lots of time and money trying to kill them. And up till now, attempts to get us to recognize these plants as vegetables have fallen on deaf ears, because we didn’t need them. There were plenty of vegetables and fruits at reasonable prices on grocer’s shelves, and we had plenty of money to buy them.
But that’s not necessarily true any more. Times are getting tighter all over. Unpredictable weather has reduced crop availability below demand for many commodities. Fuel costs and scarcity are driving prices up, and adding to the stress on all of our budgets.
Gail says “The time has come to begin familiarizing ourselves with the foods around us. The problem, however, is which weeds are the true vegetables? How do we recognize them, and what do we do with them to make them really tasty after we know what they are? “
On August 9, at Lucky Penny Farm in Garrettsville, you will have a chance to find out. Gail and his staff will introduce you to eight or ten of the best wild vegetables, give you a chance to taste them raw and cooked into delicious dishes, and send you home with recipes.