Wild Foods Guru Assisted in Establishing Annual Event
West Virginia group welcomed author Euell Gibbons during early years of Nature Wonder Wildfoods Weekend at North Bend State Park.
A stop during the Nature Wonder Wildfoods Weekend allows Dr. Elwood Fisher, a retired professor from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to explain one of the many edible wild plants participants gather for later preparation.
In 1968, author Euell Gibbons was speaking before 100 overnight guests of North Bend State Park near Cairo, West Virginia. He called the Ohio River Valley “the garden spot of the nation for wild food gathering,” and the valley was full of yellow blooming Jerusalem artichokes for his visit. The speech had more of an impact than many others that year, for it heralded the first annual Nature Wonder Wildfoods Weekend.
Gibbons, of Troxelville, Pennsylvania, had recently published Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and was becoming well-known for his work.
“Our main purpose was to promote the newly built lodge at the equally new park,” Edelene Wood, an organizer of the 1968 event, says, “but in one hour, Gibbons turned us all into wild food pioneers.”
Gibbons spoke not about his experiences as a best-selling author, but passionately about using wild plants for food and healing. Guests for the event included members of Wood’s wild plants classes and subscribers to Organic Gardening, the magazine for which Gibbons wrote an outdoor column at the time.
“Many of us knew wild food usage as living-off-the-land food, survival food, soul food, country food, even Appalachian make-do food, but within that hour, Gibbons banded us all together under the name of wild food people,” Wood says. “He turned what some thought to be a passing fancy like the hula hoop into a 40-year adventure.”
Gibbons, who answered a fan letter from Wood in 1967, impressed on her the need for an organization through which wild food enthusiasts could find others looking for information about edible wild provender. Today, she heads up the National Wildfoods Association. It was formed in 1976, the same year Gibbons passed away.