An artistic exploration into sustainable food resources through foraging and preparing wild edible plants
Living off the Land is an ongoing art/research project that examines the possibilities of living from local plants that grow wild in nature, without being planted for food purposes. My attraction to wild-growing food plants stems from an ecological interest and attempts a response to discussions around the need to sustain ourselves in ways that are less detrimental to nature and preserve our planet’s environment and resources for future generations. I have been fascinated to find how many wild plants and their blossoms, fruits and roots are edible. I became aware how little most of us modern humans know about the immediate resources that nature offers to us – a skill that would have been essential to our forefathers. We, however, have lost touch to the natural world; and instead of making use of the food it provides to us unconditionally, we rely on cultivated food plants that we buy in super markets, and that have – quite often – traveled hundreds of miles before they enter our kitchens (and ultimately end up in our stomachs). We rid our gardens and yards of valuable greens that we have come to coin as “weeds”, to make room for less nutritional, less durable cultivated plants that will need our constant pampering and special care (irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides) to be able to grow.
I have ventured into this project in several different eco-systems and during different seasons: a semi-rural area in Western Canada in fall, the high Utah Rockies in spring, Western Finland in fall, and now the Hudson Valley environment of NY.
During an artist residency at Women’s Studio Workshop my quest to learn about sustainable food sources that nature can provide to us – if we only tune our awareness toward the plants that surround us naturally – led me to explore one particular green, Garlic Mustard (alliaria petiolata) which is abundant everywhere in the greater vicinity of Rosendale, NY. Native to Europe and Asia and introduced into America intentionally in the 1860s as a culinary herb, Garlic Mustard is now considered an “invasive species” and is therefore looked upon as a “weed” that needs to be eradicated. During my stay in Rosendale I investigated the culinary potential of Garlic Mustard, and came to find it palatable and very versatile in its use. It lends itself to a great array of preparations, from salads to soups and stir-fries to stuffing, pies, burgers, pestos, dips and spreads. Like most wild-growing vegetables its nutritional value by far outweighs that of cultivated greens.
Over the course of 13 days I prepared food from Garlic Mustard for the lunch potlucks at WSW. I prepared one dish each day, writing down my recipes and documenting my foraging and food preparation processes.
For my final presentation I hosted a Garlic Mustard potluck dinner at the Stone Ridge Church. I created a 57-piece set of ceramic ware, consisting of 20 place sets with bowls and cups and 17 serving bowls. Potluck participants were seated in a circle on the ground, on cushions that had topographic maps of the surrounding area screen-printed on them. The ceramics also bore topographic map elements in their surface design, which I engraved into the clay (scraffito technique) and decaled onto the glaze surface. Video of my foraging and food creation processes were screened during the potluck event.