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Saturday, May 11, 2013
Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it in dew...
and a miracle or two?
... The candyman can.
Some years ago, the delightful “new” concept of an “edible landscape” attracted brief notice in mainstream media.
Why, people agreed in momentary amazement, are we maintaining this enormous monoculture of Lawnville, USA, America’s “suburban desert” that produces nothing but gas fumes and noise? Why eliminate local fruitfulness, while trucking our suppers in from clear across the country?
We’d heard that pollinators like butterflies, bees and fireflies were in steep decline for lack of native blooms, plus regular dousings of poison. Yes, the lawn-treatment signs might helpfully say “Keep off” to a few humans, but other creatures like birds and microbes couldn’t read — nor did the signs really help anyone downwind and downstream.
In fact, we’d occasionally heard that our cosmetic, artificial landscapes were starving or poisoning them all out — pollinators, native birds, owls, toads, turtles, microbes and other creatures who can’t buy themselves any land or groceries, and thus depend on humans to allow them the edible landscape they evolved to inhabit.
Those revelations made it seem a novel, great thought:
Instead of lawn or an asphalt playground, a plot of land could be used to grow something digestible — and not just to humans, but other useful creatures.
How astonishingly hopeful it sounded — the suggestion that homeowners, schoolkids , occupants of office/industrial complexes, lawmakers and church goers and countless others who could influence a plot of land — might restore the world’s fruitfulness, its kitchen gardens and biological housekeepers, right here at home! What a concept!
Indeed, it’s hard to say which was stranger to fathom: that the land could feed its inhabitants, or that we’d forgotten it was meant to.
Arctic or Sahara, South Sea island or Nordic fjord — every part of the globe evolved to feed and be fed by its own ecosystem species, as well as the sun, rain, snow and oxygen, the plankton powders, winds and storm clouds blowing from one part of the globe to another.
If not disabled, this farm-to-table production occurs across the board, from the most elemental photosynthesis — the green kitchen of that plankton or lichen or leaf, bizarrely turning the very sunlight into material sugars that feed us all — to the most elegant, white-linen, coffee-steamed dining facility in Copenhagen or New York.
Our planet is by nature a complex, miraculous, brilliantly sweet, laugh-aloud-to-comprehend-it edible landscape, one vast, body-sustaining, good-medicine, soul-tonic, joy-stirring communion.
O taste and see!
Children know and are attracted to this entrancing reality by nature. To a child, the world becomes one big alluring, evocative, adventure-potent home, once the idea is awakened that he can wander into it and still be fed.
I have noticed with students that even in the age of the ever-enthralling smartphones and abundant sweet/salty junk food, anything edible in nature will immediately fire up their interest and imagination, inviting a deeper connectivity with the world.
Growing up, my brothers, our friends and I were thrilled by any notion that something in the yard, on a hike, in a creek or high on a mountain — was edible.
We who were rarely gladdened by chopped greens on a civilized supper-plate indoors, were exuberant to eat a gritty, rock-flavored lichen (we’d heard you could live on them if lost for days on a mountain), or sharp-tasting watercress with the roots still a-dangle, or a creek crawdad boiled in a burnt coffee can on the fire.
We pounded open black walnuts and butternuts with rocks and cracked chinquapins in our teeth, crunching up bits of bitter shell and exclaiming “Mmmmm!” over this banquet.
We were thrilled by squishy, sweet mulberries in an alley, cherry trees more laden with fruit than any magical tree from a fairy tale, and the wild strawberries growing most strangely and wonderfully — perfectly clean and candy-pink and divine-tasting — out of ordinary leaf-meal and dirt along an old mountain road.
There were summer huckleberries, blackberries and wild plums, green cook-apples and then blue fox grapes and the country apples of autumn that one could find on a craggy, splotch-bark tree, in an abandoned field or along roadsides.
Land of milk and honey
Restoring such edibility, fruitfulness, ecology and joy to the land was the ancient-new idea of the edible-landscapers, the Slow Foods and Slow Money movements.
Granted, it’s hard for such common-sense, place-based notions — whose shelf life of “novelty” has now expired for most of the media — to compete with the hourly deluges of Monsanto, industrial-food, chemical-industry, lawn-equipment ads that keep normalizing dysfunction.
Blessedly, however, the “edible landscape” recipe did catch on. It’s being used and passed along right here at home, in Southwest Virginia, by countless pockets of local growers, sustainability organizations, grassroots movements, faith communities and schools.
More on those seed banks, next time.
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
Weather Journal7 wintry scenarios for Sunday