Back To Our Roots

Teaching The Future Generation, Part 3: Foraging

Traci N SmithThese articles will be written so as to help everyone from all walks of life (or as close as I can get to it) and I always appreciate feedback on them. If you have ideas on ways to teach others skills, feel free to leave it in the comments or to join the conversation on Facebook!

So here we go with the third skill!

Foraging

You and your family are on a road trip when the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Your cell phone is dead. There is zero traffic on the road. And the nearest town is 20 miles away. What would you do? While this is not a likely scenario for most, it is for others. What would you do if you ran out of food and had no money to get more? Or no way to get to the store? What if you couldn’t find seeds to plant for a garden? On a less dire note, what if you just wanted to go spend a week in the woods and live off the land with no modern conveniences? How would you eat? How would you get water? How would you survive?

Foraging for our food is one of the oldest skills of mankind. So why have most people forgotten it? The long and short answer is progress. We no longer rely on skills such as this as an everyday need. We can just pop over to the store and buy whatever we need. So who needs to remember how to forage for food? Right? Wrong. Everyone needs to know how to forage for their own food.

Wild Edibles

To begin with, let’s define “foraging.” Foraging is the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter, per Dictionary.com.

Most people know about mushroom hunting or picking blackberries. But do you know about searching for ferns, dandelions, cattails, or clovers? How about sharpening a stick into a spear and using it to catch fish? Or setting snares for rabbits? There are all kinds of ways to forage for food. And even more types of food to forage for. I’m not going to pretend that I know very many of them. Because I don’t. This will be one of the articles that I learn along with you. So let’s get started!

Why would one want to know how to forage for their own food? Well for starters, if there is ever a dire survival situation when you would need to know, it is a handy skill to have. Do I honestly think most people will wind up in a situation like that? Not likely. So let’s go over some other reasons. I found a really good website here that gives 10 good reasons. So I’m going to take a few of their 10 reasons and expand on them.

1. You can do it no matter where you live. Whether you live in the city or in the country, there are a variety of things that grow wild around us that we can eat. Example: Did you know that dandelions are edible? They grow all over the U.S. The whole plant is edible, greens, flowers and roots. And in foreign countries, they are seen as common place in salads as lettuce. A word of caution, however, is to make sure that you do not eat Dandelions that have been sprayed with chemicals. Learn more about harvesting and eating dandelions here.

2. Foraging changes your vision. What were seen as annoying and troubling weeds take on a whole new dimension. As do a lot of other things. Where before you were confined to finding food at the store, a whole new world of possibilities has now opened up. And odds are, once that happens with your food, you will find yourself applying that to the rest of your life as well.

4. Foraging teaches patience. Who couldn’t use a little more patience in their life? You can’t just walk out into your yard and find a buffet of free food waiting for you. I mean, you could if you knew what to look for. But you still have to look for it. It’s not going to pick and package itself and lay on a shelf for you like at the store. You have to put the work into learning the skills and then the work into finding and harvesting the food.

8. Foraging can help save money on your groceries. Actually, it can help save a lot of money on your grocery bill. For example: I can go down the road about a quarter mile and pick blackberries when they are in season. I can usually end up with around 7 to 8 gallons of them by the end of a season, if not more. Then I can freeze them so that we can eat them through the whole year. Or I can go to WalMart and pay around $4.50 per pound for frozen blackberries. To equal what I could pick in 1 gallon, I would have to buy around five bags of the frozen. Which would make the cost for a 7-gallon season $157.50! Not to mention the cost of gas. And who knows what chemicals and whatnot were used on the store-bought berries prior to packaging?

10. You don’t need to be an expert to do it. I think this is one of the biggest reasons people DON’T forage. They think they have to have some special knowledge to be able to do it. While you do need a working knowledge of plants, you can still forage some even without being an expert. I’m sure that most people know what mulberries, blackberries, black raspberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc look like right?

Berries

So where does one start when they are wanting to learn about foraging? I went to two different places, but I also suggest a third. I started out by going to the Internet. Then I went to friends who knew how to forage. And the third place I wish I would have gone (but didn’t have a ride to) was the public library. We live too far out of town to take advantage of the public transit system. But I did learn a lot of valuable things! And for those like us, there is the nifty thing call Amazon where you can order books and they are shipped to you. (This is a very magical thing for me! And yes, I have a Kindle on my phone and I do take advantage of free e-books when I can. I’ll list some of my favorites in a later article.)

One of the websites I came across on the Internet (view it here) made a very good point: Be neurotic. You need to be hypersensitive to what you are picking, the area you are in and whether you know what is safe or not. Some plants look dangerously similar. You can accidentally pick a poisonous one thinking it is safe. Also, make sure that 1) you have permission to be on the property you are foraging (some places don’t allow foraging), 2) you know whether the plants have been sprayed with chemicals, 3) you know whether the land around the plants has been treated with chemicals. (Ground water can transfer chemicals quite far. For more information, click here.)

So you know about foraging now. But what do you look for in those three places? Well, for starters, you look for information on the plants in your area. It does no good to go out in the woods to find dinner if you have no idea what is poisonous and what is edible.

Because I am a mother of an almost 5-year-old girl, a scene from the movie "Brave" comes to mind. Merida’s mother was changed into a bear. And she has no idea how to survive in the wild. She attempted to pick berries, but then found out they were Nightshade berries, which are highly poisonous. This just goes to show that you truly need to know what you are looking for before trying to ingest it.

One of the suggestions was to check your local area to see if there are any classes offered. Maybe through your local extension office or a local college. If you can’t find a class, or someone to teach you, then turn to books. Lindsey G. says, “I would look on Amazon for some cheap wildlife/plant books. There are some really great ones, and you can get pocket-size books with photographs. My children have a couple, and they love to take them along when we are hiking, or just exploring nature.”

You can also look into organizations like Boy/Girl Scouts. Or, Ashley E. recommends the Rainbow Family. “I go to Rainbow Family gatherings. You can look them up: The Rainbow Family of the Living Light. I think you'll be interested in what you read. They're not an association or an organization. It explains on their website.“ (Author’s note: The website is a little confusing, so be sure to do your own research.)

Some of the easiest plants to start with grow right in your own yard; dandelions, for example. Some grow in the woods along the road, such as morel mushrooms or berries. Just be sure to do your research and make sure to learn before you eat! You don’t want to wind up in the hospital.

Some ideas on how to teach foraging to your children, from the world of Facebook:

  • “Teaching them about 'unsafe' and 'safe' plants, using those that grow nearby as well as the ones at local parks and such. Some area nature preserves have free classes in foraging, native wildlife, etc., ... take advantage of them! Fishing and camping trips on weekends. Play games that build observational skills, like 'I Spy' or backyard scavenger hunts.” – Mia M.

  • “Family outing to parks/areas of recreation. See if you can find any 'local' edibles. None that I can recommend off hand, but I am certain there are awesome books out there for that exact purpose, such as survival and info about different places. I would suggest asking the local library about such books. Probably would cover other areas, like how to build a fire, shelter, and tie knots.” – Heather M.

  • “Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts both do camping trips, and they reward the children for learning these kinds of skills. Also, you can go to any national park and camp out in the woods for either 14 or 30 straight days at one site. I can't remember exactly how long. We go to gatherings and do that several times a year with other like-minded people, many of them with children.” – Ashley E.

Next month’s skill: Hunting/Trapping

Further Reading:

Mushrooms

Blogs

Foraging

Berries

Miscellaneous

Teaching The Future Generation: Pt 2 - Gardening

Traci N SmithThere have been multiple disasters in the last decade that have hit this country, as well as others. Some of those include the snowstorm that hit Buffalo, New York, last year; Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the Eastern U.S. in 2012; the Joplin, Missouri, tornado in 2011; the California wildfires in 2007. The one thing all of these have in common is that there were people who survived. Some lost their homes, their cars, their jobs, etc. People made it through with help from FEMA, American Red Cross and many other agencies. But what if those agencies weren’t there? Or if they couldn’t reach you for days?

Would you survive if a disaster happened to you? Would you be able to provide for your family if the power grid went down indefinitely? What if you were snowed in and you had no electric or heat? What would happen if you lost your home and literally had nowhere else to go? Could you build a new life with nothing? Could your kids survive something like that?

If you remember from my last article, the top skills that folks thought children should know were:

Top survival skills kids should know 

Do your children know any of those skills? I am ashamed to say that not only do my children not know, but I don’t know most of them either. So this series will be a learning process for both you (the reader) and me, together.

So the way to learn things that you don’t know is to research, research, research. And that’s exactly what I did. I turned to those who know more than I do, as well as to the Internet. And I found a WHOLE LOT that I didn’t know!

32 skills kids should know 

Among the things I didn’t know, I found this list of 32 survival skills that children should know (you can read the full article here). These 32 skills build on the list that we already had, and adds some new skills.

So I decided I would make this series a little bit easier to follow. Each article following this one will be over one skill set. And I will attempt to include the next week’s set at the end of each post. The one thing that I will NOT be covering will be religion. This does not mean, however, that I will not discuss morals or other aspects that may seem religious. But I will try to keep it as secular as possible.

These articles will be written in a way to help everyone from all walks of life (or as close as I can get to it) and I ALWAYS appreciate feedback on them. If you have ideas on ways to teach others skills, feel free to leave it in the comments!

So here we go with the first skill!

Gardening

I chose this one because it was easiest for me to do; I'm going to put the harder ones later in the series so I have time to research and learn them as well as try different teaching techniques with the Critter Kids. This is also an easy skill for you to do just about wherever you are. If you live in an apartment with no yard, use containers on a patio or in a well-lit room (using natural light of course); if you live in a house with a yard, plant a small vegetable garden in your yard; if you live out in the country with lots of land, then feel free to plant as much as you want in the yard or in containers!

I got my start in gardening when I was young. My dad and I used to plant a garden every year. I remember going out with him after he had tilled the ground and poking holes in the dirt for him to put seeds in. Then I got to help harvest the vegetables at the end of the year. Wasn’t a whole lot and I didn’t learn much (or so I thought) at the time. But what I did learn was extensive.

I learned that proper preparation of the soil makes a difference. So does proper maintenance. He was out there every evening weeding and watering and caring for the plants. He showed me perseverance, hard work and many other traits. He also taught me to appreciate the taste of homegrown tomatoes and corn versus store-bought. Don’t think that teaching your children gardening skills will just teach them how to grow food. Because it teaches them SO much more!

Facebook How Does Gardening Help You 

So here are the general basics of what it takes to get produce from a plant:

Plant needs 

The basics of gardening

Graphic from: visual.ly

There are, of course, MANY different ways to achieve all of these things. I’ll try to cover as many as possible. But if I miss any, PLEASE feel free to mention them in the comments, or join the discussion by adding me on Facebook.

A good way to start out with younger children, if you don’t have the freedom or the space to plant a garden in your yard, is to start a container garden. You can do this inside your home or outside, as long as the plants get the right amount of sunshine and water and aren’t exposed to too much of either or to extreme temperatures. A lot of schools study the plant life cycle by having students plant a bean seed in a Styrofoam or plastic cup. I like to use glass mason jars for this lesson so they can see the roots as they expand around the outside of the jar, but it is individual choice.

When container gardening, you can still plant a wide variety of vegetables and edible plants. Use a 5-gallon bucket to plant corn, tomatoes and green beans (be sure to provide a trellis or cage for the tomatoes and beans). Use a 10-gallon plastic tote to plant potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, any number of root crops. The possibilities are endless when you are container gardening. You can even tie this skill in with recycling if you like. I have seen many wonderful container gardens made out of recycled containers. I will include a few links at the end to help you even more.

Collage of container gardens 

Two container gardens 

Some people have been known to use old tractor tires (the great big ones) and fill them with dirt, but not block off access to the existing yard. This allows plants that have deep reaching roots to still access the natural nutrients of the existing yard while still being decorative.

Decorative tire beds 

You can also use planters. The kinds that are intended for flowers. Some people use those built into their porch or even along a decorative wall by their driveway. This is also a form of raised bed gardening.

For those who DO have the room to plant a garden, whether that is a 4-by-4-foot area or more like an acre or two, you can do container gardening as well. Or you can plant a traditional garden. This is the approach that I prefer. There is something very soothing about digging in the dirt in the yard, instead of in a container for me. (I have been known to take a flashlight outside to dig in the garden at 1 or 2 a.m. if I can’t sleep.)

There are even many different ways to garden in the yard! The two that come to mind are raised beds and the traditional garden bed. Raised beds are often the best choice for areas that have bad soil. (You can add in manure, fertilizer, etc., into the soil as well if you do choose to use a traditional garden bed, so don’t fret!) The best way I have found to build a raised bed consists of some type of framing material (cinder blocks, 2-by-6s, tractor tires, etc.) and lining the bed with black plastic. This prevents bad things in the original soil from being absorbed by your plants. It also allows you to build your ideal soil inside the bed without worrying that the ground around it will leach out the good nutrients.

Once your plastic is down, then you can put down manure, compost, fertilizer, straw, etc., and then add either finished compost or bagged potting soil on top of it. The organic material in the bottom of the bed will eventually decompose and provide your plants with time released nutrition. Once you have your bed built and the soil added, then all that is left to do is plant!

Two examples of raised beds 

Classic raised garden bed 

Traditional beds are a lot easier to put in. You just till up the area you want to plant in, and then plant! We spread horse manure and bedding, as well as bedding from our chicken coop on top of the ground, then tilled it all in when we do the initial tilling. I let it sit for a week or two and then plant directly into the soil.

Traditional Garden BedThis can cause problems if the manure is too hot, however, as that is not very long for it to break down. Some manures, like chicken manure, are too strong to use directly on plants and will burn them as it decomposes. I will cover composting in a future article.

Now that your beds are made, it is time to decide what you are planting. And where you are planting it. If you are planting from seed, then be sure to read the directions on the seed packet! And if you are transplanting started plants, then read the info stick included. This will tell you how deep to plant it, how much water and sunlight are needed, as well as lots of other information. Be sure to keep your packets and tags even after you have planted. This helps you refer back if needed, as well as help you keep a record of what varieties and types you planted so you know whether to plant them again next year. Once your plants are in the soil, then your next step is to water them. Make sure that you don’t overwater them.

Explanation of the back of a seed packet 

Back image of a plant tag

Once they have been planted and watered, then all that is left is to maintain them until harvest time. (Different plants mature at different times, so be sure to read your plant information.) Daily maintenance includes watering, weeding, and checking the plants for signs of disease, malnutrition and pests. Maintaining your plants properly will lead to healthier and more nutritious fruits and vegetables for you and your family.

You need to make sure to keep weeds from growing around your plants. If there are weeds growing with your plants, then your plants aren’t getting all the nutrients out of the soil because they have to share them with the weeds, or other plants, if they are planted too close (although there are some beneficial group plantings you can try, such as green beans and cucumbers planted in with your corn). A few signs that indicate malnutrition, disease and pests: drooping leaves, the plant turning brown when it shouldn’t be (both of those can also indicate too much sun), holes in the leaves, and/or actual pests seen on the plant. (There are too many ways to treat these issues to include here. I would recommend taking advantage of another gardener’s knowledge on treatment, visiting the local library, or even a local nursery.)

Some ideas on how to teach gardening to your children, from the world of Facebook:

  • “You could do some small potted herbs/strawberries/etc. to grow in your home or on a patio. We have a large garden, and the kids love to take my herb book out while I'm gardening and they love to look through the book til they find an herb they are standing in front of, identify the leaves, and then learn what the herb's benefits are.” – Lindsey G.

  • “I guess the main thing is to make the learning fun ... and start when they are young.” – Kym O.

Next week’s skill: Foraging

Further Reading:

Books:

Programs/Groups:

Container Gardening:

General Gardening:

General Information: