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The Fine Art of Food-Finding: Community Gardening and Wild-crafting/gathering

It’s time for Northern Michigan food growing folks to begin to ready ourselves and our greenhouses and get some garden seedlings started in three weeks short weeks!

I’ve plunged into the fine-art of food-finding, and as the times are changin’ and I enter further into my Permaculture mindset, I consider and aspire to bridge both wild and tame adventures, with methods of growing and gathering food.

During this time, my art-head goes WILD and the maps of this and that are popping into my mind in a creative, spidery system that connects everything to everything, and I find myself this morning bursting with the need to draw or write it out. My choice is to first write, then perhaps draw it out…

Once again this year, as an O’k Art-farmer, I’m spending much of my winter at a drawing/writing board, happily inspired to design curriculum for children, youth, and family programming at our Community Garden; working with a great group of 20-year-olds in the fourth year of our slowly, beautifully emerging, Youth-Market Garden CSA. Learn about our 2011 season here:

Food–like water, shelter and community is a subject of much interest and study, as a nature mimicking, Permaculturist in training, and takes up a good part of my artist-observation and hands-on time. I equally love being in the woods, searching, identifying and finding wild food like many other creatures do. But in the spring and summer, I truly devote myself and enjoy being in the Community Garden, spending time and tending to our extended plant family members.

So my heart and time are divided between these gardens, like the natural cycle of seasons, and presently, I find myself spending a good amount of time in the winter woods, with our friends Matt and Kriya who are bringing their Wilderness Awareness School experience with programs through the humaNature School at Little Artshram.

For the past four, wintery weeks, much of my outdoor explorations have been connected to wandering, with a foot or more of snow on the ground. I still see familiar tree and plants that we mapped out this summer along our hiking paths through the Munson Woods. One of the wild food plants that is particularly wonderful, and an instant vitamin C snack, is the wild rose hip, with rose bushes scattered throughout these woods. Rose hips also make a lovely, medicinal tea blend with other herbs like mullen, mint and elderberry.

And speaking of Rose hips, I was delighted to have had a conversation with one of the talented chef’s at Traverse City’s Cooks’ House restaurant at the NW MI Food and Farming Summit. After hours of agricultural speak last Friday, Eric took me down the path I like to wander, about the wonders of wild food, and the idea of blending more forest garden edibles into their menu in these final months of winter.

I’ve agreed to find some wild-food gathering partners, and head out and do some foraging and collect a few pounds of rose hips to add to one of their rabbit dishes. I love it that we are not only learning how to feed ourselves from nature’s bounty, but that foodie folks, paying for incredible meals, are also being exposed and educated to the possibility of a necessary way of local, local life. Both Chef Eric and Chef Jen give me much encouragement that many of us are on a similar path of learning and benefitting from the natural, abundance of our home-place.

In terms of our human-designed gardening system, we’ve gathered just enough memberships (still taking more) to get the annual seeds ordered, and looking very forward to a few more so that we can order more perennials, including herbs, flowers, fruit and nut trees for our Edible Forest Garden. And, with winter winds blowing strong across Grand Traverse Bay, a couple of us had fun sitting around a table in my warm O’k Art Studio last Wednesday, placing an order for our annual vegetable seeds, benefitting the hoped-for 20 families. We were doubly pleased to realize we put in our seed order, exactly the mid-point day between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox!

We decided to place our order with Bountiful Gardens, which is connected to one of my garden growing teachers, John Jeavons, author of a book I reference often: How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought was Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. To be honest, the epic title caught my eye about ten years ago when I was winter book-shopping for a good Community Gardening book. I admire anyone who is brave enough to title a book, painting or anything with that many capitalized words!

John Jeavons and folks along side of him for 35 years gathering research, are working in over 130 countries around the world. He has been the director of Grow Biointensive Mini-Farming program for Ecology Action, since 1972. I’ll include an article from March 2010 in ODE magazine:

As my morning mind wandering map continues to lay itself out before me I’m going to gather in two more considerations and thoughts stirring around about the bridge between growing our own food, intentionally and training ourselves to understand and gather from the abundance of food sources that surround us. Recently my friend Carol Laughing Waters handed me a brief article outline about food crops that pre-dated the Three Sisters in the Eastern Woodlands.

It opened my eyes, and connected to my intuition that those Native Americans far and away from the South American climate and maze growing regions, may have been gathering and harvesting their own types of “sisters” to feed themselves before corn and squash seeds traveled north.

Here is the article:

I was intrigued by this article, not only because we “upped the sisters” and planted a Seven Sisters Garden last summer at our Little Artshram Community Garden, but also because of the great need for our North American culture to let go of big agricultural practices and re-learn from those who grew their own food in simple ways. AND, to do this in our front and backyards, or a nearby Community Garden. It’s true, you can grow a whole lot in a very small area.

And my final Fine-Art of Food-Finding mind map sharing with you is an interesting look at one of those Three Sister’s crops, via a movie that was made in 2007. Look it up and watch it: King Corn, by Ian Cheney and Curt Elis is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation.

Ok, now I’m going to draw all of that out.