Food, landscapes, people

Snack time!

Somewhat regularly, our kids go out to the fields to “graze” on whatever tender greens are growing out there — fennel tops, rapini, and chickweed are among their top hits. Grazing like that is pretty much their favorite way to eat greens. If we serve a salad at the table, one of them will eat it (most of the time), but the other will pass.

But nibbling greens fresh in the fields has a magic appeal that never seems to grow old for them. They also loving sharing their finds with friends.

Most kids seem to be up for the adventure of greens nibbling, even if they too might not love salad at other times. Over the years, Casey and I have been amazed at how open kids are to tasting new things in the context of a field walk. Some of these greens have very strong flavors (by kids standards), and yet when presented as an experience, kid palettes respond differently apparently.

I have to admit that it is a cool experience to realize that food can be part of our landscape. That we can walk around and nibble edible things, rather than just find them stacked tidily (and for sale) inside stores.

I remember years ago when my younger cousin came to visit us from Southern California during blackberry season. She spent the morning helping Casey and me weeding and then we all roads bicycles down to the river, stopping to pick blackberries on the way. I didn’t think she would be so impressed by our lifestyle given how much fun hers sounded, but she repeatedly exclaimed at the wonder of eating food just growing along the road.

The kids and I read a book about the Kalapuya people as part of school this year: The World of the Kalapuya. “Kalapuya” is actually a family of languages but is in the case of the book used to describe the linguistically connected people who lived in what we now call the Willamette Valley. Much of the book was interesting to the kids and me, but I think we were most intrigued by imagining how different this place where we live must have looked hundreds of years ago. When Europeans first began exploring North America, they concluded that native peoples did not practice agriculture, because the landscape did not resemble their conceptions of a tended, cultivated landscape. In Europe this would mean fences marking fields (in part because of domesticated food animals, something people in the Americas did not have) and tillage.

What we learned in the book about the Kalapuya is that people native to the Willamette very intentionally cultivated food crops but using tools unfamiliar to Europeans. Fire was a very important tool for the Kalapuya peoples, and was used to prepare land for planting, to maintain open grasslands for hunting, to harvest crops such as tarweed, and to rejuvenate other perennial crops (such as camas). Much of the landscape would have been productive for some form of food: wapato growing along the edges of waterways, berries growing in thickets, nettles growing under the shelter of forests, large fields of staple crops growing in other places.

As we learned about their food sources and how they tended, cultivated or promoted their production, the kids and I marveled at what all that must have looked like. I know that I have a instinctive response to the beauty of the Oak savannah grassland, an ecological feature most likely owing its original shaping to human activity. Conservationists today are working to reestablish such ecosystems, because they are historical to the place and because they are systems that can teem with all kinds of ecological diversity, clearly benefiting more than just people.

Later this year, we will enjoy eating the handfuls of salmonberry that grow along one of our favorite local trails. (They have already bloomed!) As the kids know so well, finding food in our landscape is a treat, and for me it is extra special to enjoy those foods that have been native to this place long before our arrival. Foods that would have nourished people who shaped this landscape over centuries and millennia with their own tending and cultivation.

There is, too, deep sadness to eat those berries and remember the very hard history of how those people came to dwindle in numbers (disease) and then be displaced (onto reservations) and then stripped of cultural memories (through forced schooling). I’d like to follow that statement up with some kind of “but …” statement that turns this around, but — no — there really is just sadness and grief mixed right in there with the sweet joy of finding a berry in the forest.

We talk a lot in our house about the future and responsibility and how do we live now, knowing the past that has come before us. It’s something we wrestle with as parents (especially as homeschooling parents), wanting our children to grow up with a rich, complicated understanding of this place where we live and the people who do and have inhabited it. Today we read Martin’s Big Words in order to observe the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. History is important around here: the history of people and natural history too.

Whatever actions Rusty and Dottie choose to take in their life, to work for justice or to create or to just live kindly, they know the taste of these foods that make up our landscape. They know that there are stories in the fields and in the forests, that flavors can be found living and growing around us. It’s something.

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

~ ~ ~

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Apples — We’re almost done with apples for the season! Then we’ll have a fruit gap while we wait for the strawberries to come on in May.
  • Sunchoke & kale ferment — A small amount of this ferment left. Time to think of the next ferment possibility!
  • Bok choy — This is a tender Asian green, suitable for eating raw or quick cooking (such as in a wok). Pairs well with garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil/seeds, and ginger.
  • Radishes
  • Head lettuce — The first head lettuce of the year! Because these are the first, we’re going to limit them to 1/household for this week. Thank you for your understanding! Much more lettuce is on the way! (Trust me, spring is such a lettuce-filled season!)
  • Salad turnips — LIMITED as well for this week! These turnips are a spring treat. They are delicious to eat raw, resembling a smooth, mild radish. Eat the leaves, too!
  • Chard
  • Red russian kale rapini — Beautiful kale rapini! Still some leaves, but mostly just the tender stalk and buds
  • Carrots
  • Sunchokes
  • Marina di Chioggia
  • Butternut
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