The Forager’s Meadow™
Grow and gather wild plants. Seed a permanent food system.
Meadows are the art of flowers and grasses run amok. They are also an expression of something that resides within ourselves.
Meadows are the original human ecosystem. Evolutionary biology traces our origins back to these grassy places, where we foraged in the undergrowth, amid the occasional scattered savanna tree. Even now, social scientists can detect an unconscious bias toward grassy places, especially among young children.
It’s no surprise then that we recreate meadows everywhere we go. Our ubiquitous lawns, for example, while ecologically boring, fit the technical definition of a grassland or meadow. Our wastelands and abused places also usually remake themselves as new kinds of meadows – every crack in civilization’s pavement sprouts a new blade of grass. Eventually the cracks coalesce into new weedy meadow ecosystems. Abandoned shopping malls, vacant lots, and rusted factories become assemblages of dandelions, buried plastic relics, and coyote dens.
It’s easy to deplore this mess.
But at the same time, it’s comforting and something of a miracle that nature will happily replace broken shopping carts, discarded syringes, and toppled chain link fences with a wild garden.
The Forager’s Meadow is an homage to this kind of self-determined ecosystem. It is not a native plant restoration mix, although it does have some native plants in it. It does not mimic an earlier history. Instead the Forager’s Meadow is something else entirely. It’s an expression of our current planet, our culture, and our social tensions.
It is a meadow for our moment in history, right now.
We designed the Forager’s Meadow around a grassy matrix of tough, low-growing hard fescue (Festuca trachyphylla), a densely clumping little grass that can tolerate some trampling and exist on simply the water that falls from the heavens.
Interspersed is xTritipyrum aaseae – Salish Blue Wheat – a hardy cold-climate perennial grain developed by our local Washington State University Bread Lab! Our family eats pancakes made from Salish Blue flour every Sunday morning.
Into this edible perennial grain field, we’ve added twenty-odd edible herbs, tea plants and wild-ish vegetables that can naturalize in disturbed human landscapes and anthropogenic soils, but which don’t become invasive in natural areas. These additional species include:
Perennial and Biennial Vegetables: Perennial Chives (Allium schienoprasum), Edible Japanese Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium), Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor), Angelica (Angelica archangelica), Bunching Onion (Allium fistulosum), Red Mustard (Brassica juncea), Red Russian Kale (Brassica oleracea), Roquette (Eruca vesicaria), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus), Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum)
Tea Plants and Herbs: Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Dill (Anethum graveolens), Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris), and Western Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Edible Seeds and Grains: Golden Flax (Linum usitatissimum), Red Grain Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus)
Root Crops: Common Camas (Camassia quamash), Japanese Goboroot (Arctium lappa), and Skirret (Sium sisarum)
The latter plant on this list, Skirret, is an ancient carrot relative that was one of the early classic root vegetables grown and cherished in Medieval Europe for its sweet roots and abundant yields. It also divides easily and can survive for decades with careful, sustainable harvesting.
The Forager’s Meadow is a kind of permanent agriculture. A meadow you that you tend year-after-year, season-after-season for food. It’s a source of healthy root crops, leafy greens, and whole grains. It’s a landscape of interesting flavors and infusions. It’s an unruly melting pot of origins and traditions that manage to co-exist and complement one-another, even under hard times and in hard places.
It’s the best of who we are. All of us.
We recommend seeding the Forager’s Meadow in the fall, winter, or early spring on recently disturbed or bare ground.
Like our native habitat seed mixes, we strongly recommend increasing the volume of the mix before sowing with an inert material such as sand or natural cat litter to make it easier to evenly broadcast across the site. If possible, seed should be raked into the soil or covered with loose straw to enhance germination and reduce bird feeding on exposed seed.
Extensive site preparation is unnecessary in many applications as many of the typical weeds that show up with minimal site preparation– such as dandelion, sorrel, and nettle – are also edibles that can be harvested along with all the species included in the Forager’s Meadow.