More Wildcrafting, Less Gardening. More Joy, Less Stress.


Last year, an important balance shifted.  I found my self, and there I was, outside - on a bike, in the wild, adventuring, and for the first time, whole, complete.  And I realized that's where I fit in, where I wanted to be, to maximize my time.

See the picture above?  That's it.  That's where I want to be, in the arms of the incomparable Rocky Mountains - riding new trails and exploring, covered in mud and sweat and thorns, happily breathing that clean low-oxygen air and feeling a part of it all, the spiral of time in this place, my place.

And so this year, the growing season looks quite different to me.  I'll be spending more time on my bike, collecting wild foods and herbs, and less time in the garden.  Seems like a win win situation to me.  To my mind, foraging and cycling go hand in hand - stroke upon stoke the days go by, the plants live and die, and live again, and so do I.

This is actually quite a dramatic change from last year.  That year, I gardened heavily, compulsively.  I had a plot in both the front and back yards, a homemade plastic and pvc greenhouse, and more containers than I could count.  For almost nine months last year, through snow storms and wind storms and all of the bone-tired heat, I spent a bare minimum of 30 minutes per day in the garden, sometimes much more.  Add to that foraging wild foods and medicine, and all of the preparation and cleaning involved in pickling, freezing, and canning, and two full-time jobs, and I was completely worn out (and pretty darned grumpy) by the end of the growing season.

Part of this comes from the fact that I come from farm families on both sides, and growing things is in my blood and a bit involuntary; I love to watch the magic of life emerging anew from seed.  The other part of the equation last year, which admittedly set off some sort of imbalance in me, was a touchier subject.

That year, over the winter, I knew that my friend Charles, who had been fighting cancer, had a terminal diagnosis.  But foolishly, with a child-like tooth fairy-type belief, I thought that if he had something to look forward to (a garden), that he would live.  And so, as we sat through the horror of all of those chemotherapy and radiation sessions, we planned a garden, a misguided manifestation of hope.  He barely lived long enough to see the first seeds emerge, dissolving into little red bubbles and being carried away in the early April winds.

But I'm really quite thankful for that lesson, for learning that I took on too much last year.  It's true that I fed a lot of people, and am still doing so from that crop.  But it was just too much, too much work.  That, combined with the fact that I fell in love with wild foods, led to an entirely different mindset this year, one in which a balance has been struck.  Finally, balance.

Gardening is labor intensive - from trying to prepare and supplement the local heavy clay soils, to mulching and weeding, trying to manage the ridiculously short growing season, constant watering in a dry climate, the tornadoes and hail, harvest and preparation.  Lots of resources are invested into a rather unnatural process - trying to make plants grow where they wouldn't naturally - water, worms, compost, time, labor.  Foraging, on the other hand, takes advantage what is already available in the wild, aside from mindful harvesting time, very little energy is consumed.

And all of this is not to say that I won't be gardening this year, that I don't think it's worth it altogether.  But this year, I'm only gardening one small plot (about 80 square feet) next to my driveway, and will be focusing on a few fruits/veg that will supplement my wild harvest - peas and beans, summer squash, okra, cherry tomatoes, and culinary herbs, as well as a little experimentation with growing handy medicinal herbs.  I brought in a truckload of very mature horse manure last week, and my one small plot is ready to go.

The other exciting new element this year is that I will be part of a gardening collective/ yard share program.  A group of my bike-loving friends have banded together, and we hope to spread out the resources and love this year by sharing our garden harvests.  This is especially exciting because we hope that our weekly meeting will be a destination ride/ pot luck type affair.  How could you go wrong - building a greater sense of community, sharing resources, and decreasing everyone's work load?

This, combined with wildcrafting also has another great advantage - it spreads projects/labor/preserving throughout growing season.  This year, instead of working myself into a mindless stupor with gardened harvest in the fall, I will be pick and preserving smaller harvests throughout the growing season.  In the spring, hopefully I will be able to dry some morels and pickle some asparagus.  In the summer, I will put aside some cattail pollen and make berries into wine.  And in the fall, there will be less of a need to put up food, and I can be selective about my labor and crops.

And what it all comes down to is this - more wildcrafting and less gardening means that there is a greater ease in my life, and an easier flow.  With mindful collecting of wild plants, combined with hunting small game (rabbits, squirrel, and dove) and collection of road kill, and a small amount of gardened produce, I can spend more time biking and hiking in the mountains, feel sane and happy, and still feed my people.

What's more, all of this provides me with greater happiness because living so closely aligned with what is going on outside daily provides me with context.  It provides an acute awareness, of time, of place, of alignment, of both smallness and greatness, of cycles and seasons, of humanity and life in the greater circle.

This is local, seasonal eating at it's best.  I used to think that these things meant cooking what was available at markets during the season.  And I'm not dismissing foods that are farmed.  But there is an important difference between farmed food (which may be grown from any seed, some/most of which are decidedly not local in origin), and foods which are native to an area.  Last year, I learned to bring in my own meat and produce.  This year, two of my goals are to load my cabinet with local culinary herbs and spices, and to make my own teas and beverages.  And in so doing, I will define a cuisine which is truly local - food which is indigenous to this place, specific to this time. 

All of this has given me a large degree of freedom.  I used to pour through cookbooks, make lengthy grocery lists, worry about meals and dietary minutia and how I was going to feed my family.  Now, all of those restrictions and rules and worries are gone.  Food is no longer an area of stress in my life, but a source of pleasure, tastes to be discovered, seasons to be savored, each day, each food, flowing into the next in a logical and easy progression.  My food world is no longer dominated by desires and what is not possible.  Instead, my meals, indeed my life, are dictated by abundance, local and seasonal and good.

And don't get me wrong, I live in suburbia.  I like to indulge in imported foods like salt and pepper, for example.  I still buy fun cheese from the grocery, and tortillas from the local tortillaria.  I love to occasionally indulge in a (glass) bottle of Coke, or a sip of sweet or tannic wine.  I enjoy the delights of global living and believe in moderation. To my mind, none of this is about fundamentalism or zealotry.  Instead, it has been a journey to discover what makes sense, what fits, what creates harmony and secures joy in my life.

I'm sharing with the Hearth and Soul hop, and Real Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and Fight Back Friday.

Comments

  1. What a great and inspirational post. The great outdoors can lift your spirit like nothing else, I think, and it's neat how you've found that balance with your food interests. I posted a short article on the start of foraging this past week, and I've noted the theme across the blogosphere, but yours is particularly cool how it's integrated with reflection. Enjoy the day! -Renee

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  2. This is beautiful, Butter. I'm killing myself getting a garden going this year, but I do love to forage as well and would like to be a greater part of my diet. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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  3. I love foraging, but I have to admit, I find it rather lacking in the vegetable department. Greens and greens and more greens and more greens and I start getting bored and looking for some other type of veggies. I don't know mushrooms and haven't been able to find "fruit of the vegetable" plants, if you know what I mean, like tomatoes or zucchini or whatever type thing instead of just leaf after leaf after leaf interspersed with some flowers...

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  4. Last year winter I losted most of the plants now some are coming back. I don't whether I will able to get some from them before this winter. This is really inspirational post.

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  5. Penny - Hmmm. I haven't found the same here, even with a short growing season, altitude, and hot summers. At the moment, there is hardly anything up yet, but I could enjoy dandelion flowers or burdock or evening primrose roots. Next month, there will be milkweed shoots and buds, cattail shoots, young evening primrose plants, asparagus. As the summer progresses, there are even pods and things like ground cherries. In all, I've been blown over by the variety I've been able to find in what might appear to be a rather bland suburban environment :) Wish you had the same.

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  6. Maybe I just don't know what I'm looking for. I'm gonna try see if milk thistle stalk today will get soft during cooking (it tastes like artichoke), and I have gotten mallow "cheese wheels"- tastes like okra- but they're so small and buggy and dirty, that I've given up on them...
    What do you do with your flowers?

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  7. I love reading your blog.
    You sound so at ease with your way of life.
    Peacefull.
    I've always loved Food and Nature.
    But only recently, since I started reading your blog and a few other (like Penny's), have I tried to really harmonize the two.
    I live in town and I don't have much money, I've used those factors as an excuse to bend the rules in the past. But I don't want to any more.
    The only thing I've foraged before this year were chestnuts, very few mushrooms, pomegranates, acacias blossoms and a few herbs like thym and rosemery. But now I'm asking around, looking up and looking down. So far to my list I've already added asperagus, olives, wild leeks and arbutus berries!!!
    As for gardening, I really wish I had one but it's true that I have no idea of the amount of work it implies. I am thrilled with the few pots I've got, I've been watching my seeds daily to observe they're progress. I'm in awe.
    I totally respect the path you have chosen, maybe one day I'll bike out and let the world feed me too!! I'd like to have the means to daily watch the wild world grow too. Really, if I'm in awe in front of one seed, How will I react to a forest!!!!
    Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Penny - Mostly with flowers, I just throw them into any skillet dish, stir-fry, or casserole I happen to be cooking up, usually whole because I enjoy minimal effort. But with a lot of flowers, it's fun to pick off the petals and add them to baked goods (like dandelion!). But best of all with flowers - fritters! I'm going to repost my dandelion fritter recipe in a few days.

    AH - What a lovely way to put it - bike out and let the world feed me. It sounds like you've managed to get your hands on a lot of wild foods. It can be fun to see out the harder finds, but part of the charm of foraging to me is that it means taking advantage of what is common and easy to find. I'd love to pick my own chestnuts. What did you make?

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  9. Most of my foraging experiences have been one time opportunities (a walk in the woods with a friend who points something out to me...). I'd like it to become a more regular, natural way of feeding myself.
    As for the chestnuts:
    Most of the time we just roast them on an open fire. Sometimes we make chestnut paste "crème de marron": boil, peel and cook down with lots of sugar. This paste is used in a lot of french deserts. But my personnal favorite way to eat them is in stew.
    ...I eat my acacia blossoms in fritters too, they are so yummy!!! Flowers are also good in wines.

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  10. Fantastic post. Food was never really a source of stress for me until I started blogging about it...hmmm ;)

    I so agree with you about the outdoors providing context. Isn't it amazing how that works?

    Congratulations on your re-alignment. Enjoy your summer and the journey - and thanks for all your contribution to the Hearth and Soul Hop :)

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  11. I would love to find out more about foraging, especially since I've got no space for a garden anyway! I do try with my little windowsill garden (:

    http://mummyicancook.blogspot.com/2011/03/its-officially-spring-i-was-rudely.html

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  12. I went through a phase when all the kids were tiny and I couldn't garden. I suffered when I didn't give myself permission for it and I wish I would have enjoyed myself more and felt less guilty. Good for you. By the way, I am over from Pennywise Platter.

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  13. Hi BPB! Sent you an email a couple of weeks ago and got a fantastic reply from you. Thanks for putting such wonderful inspirational stuff out here. I love to see that you're flowing with the great nature, choosing what feels right and true. You've helped inspire me to start my own blog as well. Check it out if you get the time thecraftyhomesteader.blogspot.com.

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  14. Hey Kate, thank you! Find any asparagus yet?

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  15. Hi butter baby!~ What a lovely article! I so agree with you about how foraging gets under your skin! I have already had dock and hairy bitter cress to my utter delight! I plan on being much more aware of food sources in my suburban area. I have to say though you are blessed to have the GREAT BIG wild right next door. On an island the pockets of wild are few and far between, but I pledge to find them! Will be rooting for you every day to find some new joy to share with us! huge hugs and thanks for sharing this with us on the hearth and soul hop! :) Alex

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  16. I loved your article! Shared it on facebook and twitter.

    Though I have my own small gardening business and love helping others in their yards, I've moved away from growing my own food to focus on wildcrafting (like you), even if it's foraging in our small yard.

    Loved the creative community bike garden share!

    Megan

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  17. No asparagus. I think it's too early in the season here. But I've been trying to find the dead plants like in your photo. We shall see!

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  18. Megan - So excited to be getting the garden collective off the ground this year. It's something I've wanted to do for years. We're in the midst of making a flier to advertise at the moment. Our swaps will all be by bike, and there will be pot-lucks, and preserving parties!!!

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  19. Hi Butter, thank you for all the great posts. Just dropping a note to mention the middle ground (not to suggest this taking the place of foraging from the magical wild)...gardening with perennials. Permaculture, forest gardening, edible landscaping, whatever one calls it. I'm guessing you know a bunch about permaculture, but just in case wanted to mention it. I love adding new perennial edibles each year and having them back for good year after year afterwards. Check out the books "Perennial Vegetables" and "Creating a Forest Garden". Like your posts they're inspirational reading. Thanks for the lovely site.

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  20. Hi Greg, and thank you! I'm definitely into plants that tend themselves, and appreciate the sentiment. I wouldn't go without rhubarb, horseradish, and black raspberries from my Gran's, nor my apple, crabapple, and peach trees. And I try to add perennial herbs every year, both in my yard, and in the wild (natives).

    This post was more about moving away from traditional gardening - the tomatoes, the beans, the peppers, the squash, all of those things that take more time and water than I'm willing to give them, given that there are so many nice wild foods and farms nearby.

    And now that the growing season is over and we've had our first snows, I'm even more certain that this is how my life will proceed. But this is just my lifestyle choice. I really applaud people who are willing to put such love into gardening, both annuals and permaculture.

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