Oak & Acorn: Sustainable and Wild Harvesting

Sustainable and Wild Harvesting

It’s officially spring in Western MA, which means so many things to me! After what feels like the longest winter, we are finally experiencing warmer temperatures and the sun is peeking in on us. Families is coming outdoors more to simply enjoy the change in weather. It’s still a little chilly out there, but at least we can put away our heavy coats and boots!

Spring is also a time for nature and wildlife to bring forth a new life of their own. Buds on branches begin to appear and grow, small flowers are sprouting their ways up, birds are building their nests, and so many plants in our woodlands are starting to grow.

I’ve mentioned a number of times, how much I love to forage for wild edibles. A lot of times my six year old daughter, Thu, goes with my partner and I.  She has learned to identify a lot in the past couple years, also because she is of smaller height, she tends to see things that I might walk right past without noticing.

If you are someone who enjoys foraging for wild edibles or might be thinking of getting into it, I think it’s important to keep a number of things in mind. First and foremost, you should learn about what you are looking for. If in doubt, leave it out. There are a number of resources as well as kid-friendly books to use as field guides. In Western MA we have so many wild edibles growing around us. When I hike with my daughter, I only teach her about the things growing that are easy to identify and that can’t be mistaken for any look-a-like that may be poisonous. It can be something simple like violets, in which we can make a purple jam. We also study the characteristics of what we find to see if everything matches up. It becomes a game of science and math.

We have to be very mindful that change happens in our woodland areas. From climate change, over harvesting and habitat loss, it’s important we learn to respect the wild places we harvest and teach this respect to our children. I know plenty of families who forage and something we try to keep in mind is to harvest in a sustainable manner and teach this to our children. Which means, that if you come across, say a patch of morels or ramps (which are soon to be popping up), that you don’t harvest everything you see. Excitement may overcome you and you may want to start collecting as much as you see, but it’s best to remind yourself to not over harvest.

For plants and other edibles to continue to flourish, it’s important to only take a small amount and leave plenty behind. If you come across a patch where you can clearly tell someone has harvested plenty, that’s a sign that too much has been taken. When things are free, people can sometimes lose their considerations behind the resources given to them. Take what you know you will use. Don’t take more than you need and leave plenty to continue growing. It’s also important to learn the right way to harvest something, you can learn more about this in books about foraging. Through ethical harvesting practices, things will continue to grow for many more years. Be sure you are harvesting from a place that are free of pesticides, not private property and  away from roads.  Protected or endangered plants should never be harvested, and if it’s a year where things are low in count, consider skipping the year and hoping there will be more for the next.

Depending on your child, their age and other considerations, you know best what to teach them. For young children, I think it’s best to stick to what is easy to identify, like Spruce tips and daylilies. I also encourage families to forage together.  My family only harvest something if we all agree it’s okay and are 100% sure we have identified it correctly.

Enjoy the plants that are beginning growing around us, and make sure you keep in mind the importance of creating a safe and sustainable harvest!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leslie Lynn Lucio
Leslie Lynn LucioLeslie is from Texas but has always been drawn to New England. She lives in the town of Northampton and loves living in Western Massachusetts. She spends a lot of time with her five year old and connecting with the community. Her interest include cooking, DIY projects,writing, biking, being outdoors, photography, restoration, food preservation and social activism. She spends some of her time farming when she can and also you can spot her working with the Pedal People.

[Photo credits: (cc) Rachel James; (c) Leslie Lynn Lucio]

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