Saturday, January 14, 2017

Oh, What We Can Do With This Land: Pt. 1 Food



Metropolitan Matters

Today we're living with cultural/collective individual disconnect between land/earth/nature and ourselves. This is exemplified in the ecologically destructive forms we grow the majority of our food, our desires to live high carbon footprint lifestyles, the pain/fear we often experience in nature in reaction to her elements, and more locally it shows in the way we manage our own properties/land.

Connecting with nature in such a way that our desires shift to a set that is more earth nurturing and ecological caring/inclusive is a shift in consciousness that can't be completed alone by educational programs and awareness raising events/workshops. Humans change through experiences, and in Metropolitans where 80% or 4/5 people live, our land touching our dear neighbors land, holds the potential to change people, if we, those already on a path to balance with nature/earth, can create positive experiences for people. We know that short-term (next 1,000 years at least)  the health of nature depends on human actions and inaction. So this is an ecological restoration shift in focus to the number 1 ecological cause of distress and destruction; our current dominant cultural/collective and individual disconnect.

Rural Matters

20% of the population lives in what is labeled Rural Residential, owning about 3.5-4 % of the land surface in America. Metropolitans as a whole occupy 3% of the land surface in America, together this is a mere 7% about of the land, some of which is under concrete, asphalt, or buildings. Per person, rural people own around 4 times as much land, so our potential to create more in quantity is higher, but due to the lack of population density per street, our opportunities to expand one's neighbors experience with nature may be more limited. I must say though, if someone wanted to show me 3 acres of edible native plants and medicinal native plants, I'd be out their 8 in the morning on a cold January day to see such extensive of a planting. I myself, one day hope to buy just 5 or so acres in Brown county, to create such a place where bounties of primarily medicinal native plants could serve Cincinnati, as a model. There's much potential for rural land supporting the local communities too, instead of being solely focused on exporting to cities, though it's hard to export corn, soybeans, and wheat to your local community as actual non-processed food, indicating a completely new agricultural approach needed for rural farms to directly be rural-supportive.

Oh, What We Can Do With This Land (Please Read this Part)

Have you ever noticed how even sometimes, the most nature-disinterested people, have grown or tried to grow tomatoes or peppers? There is a hierarchy created by degrees connectedness, in which food is the most basic, and most engaging stimulus to a human being. For example, some people would only go outside to water their Tomatoes and other gardening plants. Other people, could walk out in the morning dew, to see the arising pollinators buzzing from plant to plant getting a sort of spiritual food out of the experience of just observation. While some people can mostly only hold their attention on activities in nature like hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking. Wherever we are on this spectrum, we can all meet, where the food hits the ground, and at the dinner table.

Choosing native plants exemplifies an agricultural shift needed to make the land whole/in balance again. One may think, we'll if we harvest the fruit, seeds, and nuts of these native plants, what will be left for wildlife. What needs to be realized is the insect biomass produced by native plants + the micro environments they create collectively out weighs their fruits, and being the bottom of the food chain; insect biomass is often more important than the seasonal fruits of the land for ecology as a whole. Also, the pure abundance possible if just our 40+% devoted land to livestock land was converted to Agroforesty and native ecosystems with native grazers, is unimaginable. Once this was a nation of +100 million indigenous people living off the land with a very small fraction of the land-manipulation/ecosystem destruction and technology we have/have done today. We've moved away from that type of land management into modern industrial agriculture. If you want to save ecology, consider feeding people with it, help them to experience the fruits of the land. Our next blog post in this series coming Fall of 2017, will be healing with native plants focusing on another powerful way to help people connect with nature; medicine.

Food

The potential in feeding one's self, or one's family from native foods quite high if we are willing to eat a plant based diet. Many of these plants are pleasing to the eye of the average passer-byer too. Thinking about actually feeding people, we have to consider what grows in abundance like edible leaves, roots, and stems, and what grows concentrated energy; seeds, particularly nuts with high nutmeat to husk ratios like Acorns, Chestnuts, and Hazelnuts. Fruits are important sources of many things the body needs too, but are more of a luxury if prioritizing with limited space. Seeds feed the world today, and will continue to in the future, proportionately. Let's just go through a few, highly recommended edible native trees, shrubs, and vines in particular, then we'll discuss a couple of potentially useful herbaceous plants. 

Woody Plants (Trees, Shrubs, Vines)


Hazelnuts - Nuts - Hybrids for now - (Corylus hybridized)

European Hazelnuts have long been cultivated for large nutmeat and thin shells. They face a dire future in America where a native blight kills many cultivars of European descent. Organizations like Badgersett are breeding blight resistance hazelnuts that produce heavy crops by crossing the native American hazelnut, resistant to the blight (EFB), with the European Hazelnut. Pioneer Landscapes will have over 100 of these special breeds for sale next year. 

Hazelnut shrubs are widely adapted to different soil types and moisture ranges, and these new hybrids can not only serve as some habitat for wildlife, but produce a ton of food for humans to reconnect with the earth through. I hear the fall color is stellar on them from a horticultural perspective. Being one of the densest foods in calories; +650 per 100 grams, these Hazelnuts promise to be competitive with soybean fields in the near future if not already. But no need to wait for them to end up in a farm field near you. Plant them as a hedge; 10 of them in full sun will produce a descent harvest in about 5 years. Eventually, American Hazelnuts will be bred for larger nuts and we won't need to have the European genetics present for high production. 


Oaks - Acorns - (Quercus sp.)

Pictured above is "Buck's Unlimited" Swamp White Oak bred for high acorn production of annual crops. Originally intended for deer hunters trying to feed the deer, the Agroforestry movement has adopted this tree as a prime cultivar for acorn production. Swamp White Oak matures best in at least slightly acidic soils, higher on the moisture spectrum. The local Cincinnati metropolitan has tons of this niche available in the glacial till deposit plains. These are not for local floodplains as those are alkaline. There are other oak cultivars bread for acorn production as well, and these can play a major part in the remaking of our agricultural system into one that is eco-inclusive, instead of eco-exclusive.

The way one makes an acorn palatable, is the leaching of the tannins. There are thousands of people doing this now, in this country, returning to a more indigenous people's diet, with this wonderful genus of indigenous nut producing trees. See how to process acorns here. 


Chestnuts - Nuts - Hybrids for now 

For those not in the situation to plan for the future with their space with Oaks, there are alternatives, being the Hazelnut shrubs previously written about above, and these very vigorously growing hybridized chestnuts. These are resistant to the blight that killed nearly all American Chestnuts in the 20th century. They don't get as large as oaks, and have low branching, wide spreading habit as a tree. The fragrancy of the flowers and aesthetic is sure to attract people ornamentally, but the real price are the nuts! Nutritionally they are more similar to a grain, high in starch, lower in fats/proteins.  If you have the space, I'd suggest still planting your oak crop for future generations, and planting Hazelnut and Chestnut Crops for tomorrow. Sometime in the future, perhaps, the American Chestnut breeding programs will produce blight tolerant specimens that can then be cultivated for production. As for now, we must plant the hybrids for chestnuts.




American Persimmon - Fruit

The American Persimmon produces one of the sweetest fruits known to man, complemented by a very agreeable flavor. There have been many cultivars created that have improved productivity, fruit size, and flavor that are worth considering over the wild type persimmon. Wild Persimmons are agreeable as well. The fruit comes down each year in high quantities from medium sized tree and is best canned or frozen in puree form for cooking with or using as spreads. I prefer to eat them raw over cooking. The pay off for a persimmon cultivar begins around 5-7 years depending on growing conditions, so it is closer to a Hazelnut in bearing fruit sooner than most trees. These trees tolerate acidic and alkaline soils, rocky shallow hillsides, as well as high moisture and saturated soils making them highly adaptable. The wood and tree size makes it a descent tree to line the west or east side of a 1 story high house with, while it will not cast dense, deeply cooling shade it will not significantly harm the house in a wind storm.

Wild Plums - Fruit - (In the Prunus genus of Cherries, Plums, and Peaches)

America has an abundance of wild plum species, most of which are not well understood even by botanists. Their characteristics are widely variable, as is their fruit aspects. The ones pictured above were found in Miller Eco Park, Lebanon Ohio, and are still unidentified as far as species. But naming the plant is not of supreme importance, the most important thing is understanding what soil and condition of the plant you're interested in growing, prospers. These in particular produce an abundance of huge (for wild plums) quarter sized plums, with 1 smallish seed inside each fruit. The skin is moderately tart, while the flesh is strongly plum flavored. Some wild plums are tart all the way through. Some have sweet skin, and sweet pulp. It all depends on who the mother is, and what species it is. 

There are so many different wild plum variations, that we could cultivate so many varieties for food production. Why would we do this? Plum's are one of the most pollinator supportive shrub/small trees we have, also cultivating native fruit trees supports the ecosystem through so many unstudied/unseen bacterial/fungal/insect/animal/plant interactions above and below ground. Indigenous peoples once cultivated thickets of plums and hazelnuts throughout the country for an abundance of nuts and fruits coming a different points in the season. 




Riverbank Grape - young green shoots, leaves, seeds fruits edible (Vitis riparia)

Vitis riparia, Riverbank Grape,  is unique among the wild grapes in that the astringency is so low in the leaves, that one can eat them raw, retaining all of the nutrients. Or you can look up recipes for grape leaf soups, cutting out the blanching step, as this species don't need that, which is a major loss of nutrients.  Drought tolerant perennial vine crops, that produce edible leaves and stems + fruits and seeds, like Passion flower written about below, can be highly versatile and highly productive food sources. Have you ever tried to grow kale, spinach, or swiss chard? There's work involved there. Where as with Passion flower and Riverbank grape, you really just need to give them something to climb on, and then harvest sustainably throughout the season so that they can still produce fruit and have enough leaves/stems to still thrive.  We (Pioneer Landscapes) likes to set up 8' tall to 16' tall 4"x 4" concreted 2'-3' into the ground, and run grape ochard wires in between them for a type of vertical growing. Grape leaves have been nutritionally analyzed as one of the most nutrient dense leaves available for us to eat. They have a higher amount of Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron (3 Common American Nutrient deficiencies) than Spinach, Kale, and Broccoli. They also have good amounts of Vitamin K, A, C, and some B-Complex. The seeds and fruit should be blended together into a puree, releasing the seed's nutritionally and medicinally valuable oils into the grape juice. The grapes will taste citriousy + a little sweet.

 

Blackberry and Raspberry Species

We've all had Blackberries and Raspberries. They also have a long lineage of cultivation. I emphasis using uncultivated plants as much as possible, or cultivars of native plants as much as possible. This can bring about a sort of ecological inclusiveness in our agricultural system, as written about in the opening paragraphs. Pictured to the right is Rubus pascuus, Chesapeake Blackberry. It is heavily throned and grows densely creating good wildlife habitat, especially when growing with co-exisitng native shrubs to climb/lean on like silky dogwood in a moist soil, or Hazelnut in a drier soil. These fruits are sweet when ripe, and don't have the tart element of most blackberries. This particular blackberry, if cultivated to have "less" thorns overtime, would be an excellent addition to the world of blackberry and raspberry crops. Either way, the pollinator support in May-June, and the fruit make for an excellent, low maintenance native plant. This won't won't require any kind of spraying being native to Eastern American environments, these grow wild and produce abundant fruit without human influence.

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A Few Herbaceous Plants 


Jerusalem Artichokes - Root - (Helianthus tuberosus)

"Sunchokes" are a pernnial sunflower, that has already be cultivated to produce sizable tubers, comparable to russet potatoes. Naturally these plants grow in deep soil, moist prairies, wood edges, and creek/river side. Pollinators utilize the September blooms to store up on resources for overwintering, late season reproduction, or migrating. This is one I haven't had the honor of eating, but I have the honor of planting, wild ones. Just planting small tubers from one colony out in a deep silty sunny soil in unmoved lawn, two years later created 6x6 foot wide colonies towering over 10 feet tall quickly expanding out into the lawn. Their biomass production is good for composting carbon and building the soil in an intensively managed garden setting. There are so many roots we can cook and eat, Jerusalem artichokes are just one of many, and one that happens to already have cultivars developed for high production.

 

Wild Sweet Potato - Vine - Root (toxic without proper preparation)

Unlike Jerusalem Artichokes, the native wild sweet potato has not been cultivated (improved for agriculture) yet. It is in the same genus as russet potatoes, morning glory, and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea species), and can easily produce tubers over 5 lbs in weight, maxing out around 25 lbs. With two changes of boiling water, one can leach the purgative biochemicals out of the roots, which would naturally prevent animals from eating the plant's large tubers. With those chemicals leached out, similar to how one must leach acorn tannins out before eating, the tuber becomes completely edible. The picture above shows the vegetative vigor, and in a garden setting, this vine would do well to be allowed to grow vertically like the River Bank Grape which would allow it produce sizable tubers, much faster. The floral display can be pretty spectacular, though like other morning glories, the blooms close up in the hottest part of the day. 

This is a plant to consider cultivating and breeding so that it's better qualities are promoted. Even as is, indigenous people at the Wild Sweet Potato as part of their diet. See this blog post for more about the cooking/eating of the Wild Sweet Potato. 

  

Passion Flower - Vine - Fruit (Passiflora incaranta)

The Passionflower is plant of many qualities/potential uses. The leaves/stems contain a compound called Chrysin, a flavonoid, which can have a sedative effect on the mind/body system if a tea or tincture of passionflower is taken on an empty stomach. In Europe, our American native Passionflower is widely prescribed by doctors as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety remedy. 

What's more; the native people ate the leaves/vines as a cooked green. You may wonder, wouldn't they overdose on the Chrysin and simply fall asleep after eating a soup of passionflower? The indigenous people learned that cooking the vine with fat, and other greens, nullifies the effect of Chyrsin as again it must be taken on an empty stomach to reach the brain. If you've ever seen a passionflower grow vertically, you could see how the potential for a perennial drought tolerant leaf/stem crop is very exciting for this plant.

And......the fruit are pretty awesome. People have a hard time learning when they are ripe. The one pictured above is a bit overly ripe or perfect, and they still taste really good at that stage either way. If you open it up and it's hollow, you're too early. If you open it up to see clear, fleshiness around white seeds, you're still too early and it will taste tart. The seeds should be dark brown or black when the pulp is ready to consume. 

And.....the seeds are edible too, but would need to be cooked to be digested.

And.....the rind is edible too, and is also best cooked, so one, like the indigenous people did, could get creative in cooking a ripe fruit, seeds, rind, and all in some kind of sweet soup to receive maximum nutrient from the fruit.

So, plenty of potential food fun here. And pollinators love the exotic flowers!

  

Groundnut - Vine - Root (Apios americana)

The Groundnut, is a moderately moist soil preferring legume vine, tolerant of saturated soils. Being a legume it produces it's own nitrogen, and being a vine, it is another candidate for vertical growing like passionflower, riverbank grape, and wild sweet potato. Most parts of this plant are considered edible, beans, leaves/shoots, and roots. The picture selected above is from a blog post featuring the plant being cultivated by permaculturists in partnership with Louisiana State University which provided them cultivars of Groundnut that are in experimental stages. As this plant progress in cultivation, like it's cousins have in other parts of the world, this could be another native root crop to add to the list of plants that could transition our agricultural system back to an ecologically inclusive format. The blooms are favorited by native bees too :-)    

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These plants just scratch the surface for the potential for us to connect with nature while healing the land through transitioning agriculture back to native plants in ecologically restorative formats. See Daniel E Moreman's Native American Food Plants book, and his Native American Medicinal Plants book to glimpse a fraction of how much potential abundance our land could produce with foods, medicine, and ecologically healing.

Key Points of this Blog post (Repeated Info)


"Connecting with nature in such a way that our desires shift to a set that is more earth nurturing and ecological caring/inclusive is a shift in consciousness that can't be completed alone by educational programs and awareness raising events/workshops. Humans change through experiences, and in Metropolitans where 80% or 4/5 people live, our land touching our dear neighbors land, holds the potential to change people, if we, those already on a path to balance with nature/earth, can create positive experiences for people. "

"There is a hierarchy created by degrees connectedness, in which food is the most basic, and most engaging stimulus to a human being. For example, some people would only go outside to water their Tomatoes and other gardening plants. Other people, could walk out in the morning dew, to see the arising pollinators buzzing from plant to plant getting a sort of spiritual food out of the experience of just observation. While some people can mostly only hold their attention on activities in nature like hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking. Wherever we are on this spectrum, we can all meet, where the food hits the ground, and at the dinner table."