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Question for Stephen Barstow: How to introduce others, especially children, to perennial veggies?

Posts: 299
Location: Portland, Oregon Maritime, temperate, zone 7-8.
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There are so many excellent reasons to grow perennial vegetables:
they are the easiest vegetables to grow;
they are often wild edibles, with significantly higher nutritional content than many domesticated plants;
they are usually ready for harvest before annuals, which is extremely valuable in colder climates;
they only need to be planted once, thus requiring less soil disturbance, which helps to maintain good soil biology and retain carbon in the soil;
they are deep rooted and require less fertilization and water once established;
they are usually not affected by diseases and pests;
they are very resilient in the face of factors which would weaken or kill annuals, thus they are allies as we face climate change.

So we are doing a service to introduce them to our friends.

Yet, these have become unusual and strange to people, and many people are very conservative about the food they eat.

What do you suggest as ways to introduce perennials vegetables to win acceptance of these foods, especially by children? I ask about children because they have the most to gain by loving these foods and eating them for the rest of their lives, and also because children tend to be the most conservative people about trying unusual foods.

Thank you.

Posts: 91
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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I have a couple of suggestions, and look forward to Stephen's feedback.

For children, it's actually much easier than you think. Once children are given permission to try foods, and given the skills to identify the (usually very few!) plants that shouldn't be consumed in your region, they usually flourish with it. I remember how amazed I was when my oldest son, only about 15 months old at the time and barely verbal, looked at wood sorrel, made eye contact as if to make sure it was okay, then picked it himself and ate it. Of course, I'd showed it to him many times before, and he'd eaten it and liked it. I suggest starting with interesting or unique flavoured herbs. Anise Hyssop or Sweet Cicely with their sweet anise flavour are favourites of my kids, but they will take something like chives or sorrel and just munch it by the handful too. Even stronger herbal flavours like mint or thyme are sometimes enjoyed raw straight off the plant.

In terms of structures to help expose people in general, I would suggest 'weed eater' walks around a property in a neighbourhood by someone who knows a bit about local edible plants. You'll end up attracting people you might not expect, who will then be that much closer to understanding where you are coming from. Have lots of 'free samples' during the walk, and a big plate of salad that everyone picked together at the end. I prefer dong a (non-sprayed) lawn and ornamental bed for something that's really introductory - it might act more as a gateway to wild foraging, and hopefully open some peoples' eyes to the uses of plants they've been pulling as weeds for years. If purslane tastes so good and is super healthy, why are we pulling it out all the time? You can raise some important questions to get people thinking.

Another idea would be to invite people to full perennial meals, though in my mind, this takes more experience if you are going to put together a full meal that will be palatable to newbies - especially if you restrict yourself to only self-harvested food. It also requires more time to gather enough food (unless the gathering and processing is a group effort as well), and more consideration of the seasons. While salads can be picked at almost any time of the growing season, other perennials have a limited time when they are at their peak edibility.
Posts: 51
Location: Malvik, Norway
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Interesting question Pamela! Whilst modern children might be conservative when they are out of touch with nature and other children who are in touch with nature, I suspect that it is the opposite traditionally and that it is the children who keep foraging traditions alive longest as it is children who have the broadest social interactions. The same is true of local dialects - they tend to be maintained longest in the children...

Otherwise, my experience coheres with Rob's - the plant my kids remember best is undoubtedly sweet cicely (Myrrhis) which was seasonal candy to them (and dried apples in winter).

My kids also loved sour tastes - my daughter and her best friend would sit in the rhubarb patch and nibble on raw rhubarb. Practically everyone who was a kid in Norway in the 1960s and older knew that sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella, other species in North America) were tasty and would seek after it. SO, WHY ON EARTH do they not sell plants in supermarkets that kids actually LOVE. Clearly, nobody has done a market survey?

I give references in the book to various other plants that kids loved to eat traditionally. We need to start to relearning them....
Pamela Melcher
Posts: 299
Location: Portland, Oregon Maritime, temperate, zone 7-8.
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Thank you, Rob and Stephen.

This will be fun!
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