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Wildcrafting: Seeing the world as a garden

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 by: Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D.
Tags: wildcrafting, garden, health news

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(NaturalNews) In the words of T.S. Elliot, "so how should I presume" to draw a line in the sand? Just how do I say, loud and clear, "enough!" There are, actually, as many ways as there are grains of sand, but the way that seems most accessible to me is to begin Unplugging from The Man. Scott Nearing put it succinctly when he wrote that he "must reduce wants and even needs to a minimum; wherever possible, serve myself, raise and prepare my own food, wash my own clothing, do my own building and repairing, maintain the best of health to avoid the heavy costs involved in sickness, keep down such fixed costs as rent, interest and taxes; never borrow and take on interest slavery, but always pay cash; build up a capital reserve sufficient to cover a full year of unemployment, and be prepared for emergencies." (The Making of a Radical, p. 44) Nearing was a strong advocate of Unplugging from The Man, which he referred to as The Establishment.

People can unplug, or not, according to their individual comfort levels. There are dozens of ways to pull the plug. We can all do it differently and still make a collective impact. And, we can do it incrementally and progressively as we get more comfortable with new lifestyle behaviors. There's no point in expecting The Man to change. It's not going to happen. The corrupt system works for him. He's getting richer and fatter. So, we have to find a way to wave goodbye to The Man who has never paid more than lip service to any one of our attempts to "pursue life, liberty and happiness."

I began unplugging in 1974 and am still discovering deeper, more wide-spectrum ways to pull the plug. The more I unplug, the more I find myself, in the words of Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life. I don't feel as if I have given anything up. I feel, conversely, as if I am liberated from things that I really never needed in the first place.

Let's start with some of the theoretical considerations. Heidegger's big idea was that most people get so lost in das Man (The Man) that they never engage in real discourse, being content, instead, with idle chatter -- groundless, buzzing pop-talk that focuses on reaching a superficial consensus instead of exploring anything new. They never really examine their lives and, consequently, they don't know themselves. Totally exteriorized, they are easy to enculturate, to condition and to propagandize. It's easy for The Man to keep them subdued in the golden handcuffs of convenience, comfort and consumer goods.

But, one day the handcuffs start to feel tight. They might even chafe their wrists. Their bubble-priced home is suddenly under water, the warranty wears off their new SUV, their paycheck can't keep pace with rising food and fuel prices, they get furloughed and their kids can't afford college. Most wonder if this is The American Dream? A few realize that they've been lied to while The Man has laughed all the way to the bank.

Jean Gebser's seminal work, Ever-Present Origin, posits a map of psycho-history in theorizing that we are currently in a period that Gebser calls the Mental-Rational Period. It is a period that represents the culmination of the development of the human ego. Gebser further theorizes that, used in its negative sense (ie, acquisition, superficiality and separateness), the ego will lead to complete collapse of civilization. The only way that humanity, in his view, can move forward from Empire to Earth Community (to borrow David Korten's words) is through reaching back into earlier structures of consciousness -- which Gebser calls the Magical and Mythic -- and reintegrating their practices and lifestyle patterns. I agree. Because those very practices and lifestyle patterns offer us a tried and true blueprint for Unplugging from The Man! Let's get started!

The people of the Magical period were nomadic. They "got their groceries off the ground" through gathering. We can reintegrate this practice through WILDCRAFTING. One of the most disturbing and extraordinary aspects of life in the US is the persistence of hunger. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that food insecurity was accelerating even prior to the recession: the number of people reported in 2008 was more than double the number in 2000.

As the recession has deepened, there are too many families surviving predominantly on refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and macaroni because these products are less expensive, as a result of being subsidized by the government. In 2005, the government spent $17 billion subsidizing grain farmers. Rather than focusing on the production of fruits and vegetables, more than half of US subsidies go to grain farmers.

And yet we know that fruits and vegetables -- especially leafy greens -- are nutritional powerhouses. Dark green leafy vegetables are, calorie for calorie, perhaps the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. It was common for our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors to eat up to six pounds of leaves per day. Imagine them walking along from one place to another, just picking and eating greens as they went -- a veritable bonanza of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Contemporary wildcrafting offers us the same opportunity. Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting edible plants from their natural, or "wild" habitats. It means, literally, discovering that the woods and fields are a table always spread. It's seeing the world as a garden. Now that the days have grown longer and warmer, I am able to harvest up to 15 types of wild green edibles each afternoon in my own backyard. While waiting for the cultivated greens in my garden to mature, I am already making huge, dark green salads from my wildcrafted veggies.

America's hunger problem could be reduced if people were taught the ancient art of wildcrafting. Families could find food -- and lots of it -- right in their backyards! Further, if municipalities were encouraged to stop using chemically toxic sprays on parks and roadsides, wild foods could also be harvested there. And, we could pull the plug on The Man. We wouldn't need to buy commercially produced (often by huge multi-national corporations) leafy greens that have been transported thousands of miles.

It is anomalous. We are in the midst of one of the worst recessions in American history. Literally millions of people don't have access to secure food supplies. State and local governments are reeling in debt. Yet, instead of encouraging wildcrafting, we continue to spend millions of tax dollars spraying toxic chemicals on precious wild edibles.

Dandelion, for example, has diuretic properties, which means that it can help the body eliminate extra water. Along with these properties, dandelion is very good at supporting the liver by increasing bile production. I juice the leaves, use them in salads and make a lip-smacking-good dandelion jelly out of the blossoms.

Humans have been eating chickweed and using it medicinally throughout history. Chickweed is very nutritious and can be eaten raw or cooked. The younger leaves are great in salads and older parts of the plant can be cooked like spinach (without the risk of e coli infections from CAFO run-offs).

During fall foliage season, wild fruits abound, as do berries and nuts. There is really nothing finer than cracking wild walnuts by a cozy Autumn woodfire, while feasting on a wild apple pie -- unless, of course, it's a bowl of wild plums! Unplugging from The Man does not result in austerity. It results in simple prosperity. It is personal freedom. To become unplugged is to become free. Each thing that we can do to cut ties with The Man and its established order creates more freedom.

About the author:
Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D., is a socially engaged philosopher and cultural sustainability advocate. Her new book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle explores critical issues from this perspective. At the end of each chapter is a list of things that you can do to create a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. For more information: http://www.sherryackerman.com

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