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.
The weekenders back in 1968 learned Gibbons’ gourmet approach to wild food usage, and for this year’s event – September 21-23 – they will be given the same opportunity. Participants gather and prepare wild foods for what now has become an enormous wild foods social hour.
Saturday of each weekend’s festivities is called National Wildfoods Awareness Day, and people throughout the nation are encouraged to share their thoughts on foods gathered from the wild today and those wild foods made popular by our ancestors.
Over the years, participants have named North Bend park the ‘‘favorite wild food gathering place in the nation.” Each year, they select a favorite wild food, name the favorite wild foods of the 20th century, and participate in a wild foods preparation contest that offers prizes, and current wild foods authorities help participants explore new ways of looking at wild foods.
And each year, weekenders select an elite group to join the National Wild Foods Hall of Fame. Gibbons’ name, of course, heads the list.
For more information about the North Bend State Park’s Nature Wonder Wildfoods Weekend, contact Edelene Wood at 3301 Hemlock Ave., Parkersburg, WV 26104; Emily Fleming, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, 1900 Kanawha Blvd., E., Charleston, WV 25301; or visit the Web site at www.NorthBendSP.com/special/naturewonder07.pdf.