Through the porch screen, a balmy autumn breeze drifts in to the Berry’s dinning-room; a large group of people causally sits around the long table, drinking herbal tea and discussing their adventures hunting for Manzanita Berries. It is the second workshop in a series of three for this fall’s Wild Food and Medicinal CSA , and the tables are covered in goodies: crimson Hawthorne Berries, a large Evening Primrose plant, crowned with yellow flowers and ending with a long, parsnip-like taproot; Oregon Grape Root with shiny, barbed leaves; and large baskets full of Blue Oak Acorns.
In the background, children of the workshop participants play quietly as Rachel Berry discusses the medicinal properties of Hawthorn berries. The bowl of blood-red fruits are passed around the table, and many “Mmmm” over the sweet yet sour taste. Stories about and recipes for Hawthorn jam are traded; one woman relates how her friend utilized Hawthorn to successfully lower his blood pressure in just one week. Truly, it feels less like a formal class than a gathering of wise women and men coming together to share knowledge, medicine, and insight.
Next, a basket of primrose leaves and roots are passed around; many enjoy the spicy, radish-like taste, while others politely pass. But the true work happens when the Oregon Grape Root comes out and knives and cutting boards are distributed: it’s time to make a tincture. The roots are difficult to cut, and as members mince their medicine, looks of intense concentration of their faces, Matthew Berry notes that “They’re really getting a workout here.” After much travail, the chopped roots are placed into small bottles and covered with vodka to create a tincture.
Lastly, roasted acorns are circulated, and Matthew pontificates on how acorns are properly processed (video will be posted soon!).
One of the things participants seemed to enjoy most during the workshop w as Rachel and Matthew Berry’s willingness to field lots of questions, taking the time to fully satisfy everyone’s curiosity. Meanwhile, I asked my own questions to the workshop participants. I had the chance to speak to Arianna, who is a shareholder with her mother. She related, “I like learning about all the different edible plants. It’s really great to be able to identify medicinal plants while I’m hiking, and it’s nice to not have to bring snacks on a walk: after all, there’s a ton to eat right in the woods.”
Two other shareholders, Deena and Robby, spoke to me while they were processing their acorns. Deena confided that she “really likes being in the CSA; it’s our first time joining this fall. It’s really fulfilling to be able to eat wild foods, and to have more confidence to eat foods I didn’t know about before.” Robby added that the couple have their own vegetable CSA, and since they are new to the community, they enjoy being able to network with like-minded folks during the workshops. He also mentioned that “I used to grow Native plants for a junior college in Santa Cruz, and I developed a strong connection to native plants. I have the highest regard for people who know how to live off the land.”
At the end of the evening, members left with their arms full of delectable wild foods and smiles on their faces. As folks were filing out, I spoke to was Melisa; this is also her first time joining the Wild Foods CSA, and she “loves it. It’s amazing to learn about what is edible in our own back yards, and how delicious it can be. Now, when I go on hikes, I connect to the plants I see instead of just walking past them.” I think that’s the true magic of the CSA sessions: people come away with a new sense of wonder and curiosity about the plant communities around them, and are able to connect with the natural world in a new way. The Berry’s approach is dynamic, yet casual and comfortable, and by the end of each workshop, participants become empowered to take their food and their medicine into their own hands.
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Article and photos by Rachel R.C., a local Nevada City resident, artist, writer, and native plant enthusiast. You can check out her blog at http://lettersandfeathers.wordpress.com.