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is anyone using mainly natives (american, region specific, etc) as their main crops?

 
Tyler Newton
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Location: Birmingham Alabama
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Hi, I've posted on other permies threads but never started my own.

I am really, really interested in native american land management practices and subsistence crops and crops they traded etc..

I am one of those "feed the billions" permie trying to bring aspects of permaculture/sustainability/ethics to the city and I think using traditional land management practices and natives that has sustained populations before us is a good way to tackle food insecurity. I'm also interested in using these same plants as a way for inner city folks to generate revenue. Hence incorporating land management practices opposed to foraging on public land. I want to teach people how to grow their own native fruits and nuts, herbs, medicinal, mushrooms etc and provide a place for them to sell/trade those products to create something much like a local economy based on natural resources available.

Anyway, my question is are there any successful examples of this? Are any of you undertaking anything like what I've described. I know Its ambitious and I haven't explained very well but I will try to work it out with you and answer questions.
Thanks yall
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Tyler, The methods of my people are not and never were designed to "feed the billions".
They were designed to make sure a nation had the ability to have good water, enough food and game for the season spent in that area and to ensure that the land would do this for many, many years.

I applaud your ambition.
But in the Inner City environment you speak of, many of our practices would not work, simply because of the nature of asphalt and concrete covered land.
 
Tyler Newton
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Location: Birmingham Alabama
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Thanks for the reply. That's exactly what I intend to do, preserve land, water and air in the city. Unfortunately that is the problem we are faced with since we can't and shouldn't all move to the country. Using lawns, vacant lots and abandoned and neglected green areas of my city. I think it is possible to incorporate a large part of native plants into diets and utilize those resources. I'm not saying I will literally feed billions, just that we should use the resources that are readily available to us to make a more sustainable city.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Yes, You have great ideas there and I am certain you can implement them on a large scale over time.
I have found that starting with empty lots gets the neighborhood interested and then they get involved. This does wonders for their self esteem and that usually needs a boost.
They also find that they are getting better food and more of it for less money.
When that happens, look out they will be finding every empty lot they can and filling it with gardens.

Be sure to check with the local authorities about how to get permission to carry out your projects and get any permits required.
Good luck to you in this endeavor, it is going to bring you blessings from the creator.
Oh, and don't forget to bury a little tobacco and corn at the four corners of any lot before you start the digging of dirt. This is an offering to our earth mother and she appreciates it quite a lot.
Burn a little white sage every day of the project, waft it over all who come to share in the work so they are purified in spirit before the day's work begins.

(by the way it is nice to be able to see where folks are located, and their growing zone, you can add those to your profile page and then we will all know so we give better answers and advice).
 
Tyler Newton
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Location: Birmingham Alabama
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I'm curious as to what obstacles you see to such a project so that I can keep that in mind as I proceed.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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City governments are notorious, they will shut you down at their first opportunity if you don't play by their rules and regulations. (they will want to know where your funding is coming from and it is best if isn't from their budget)
If they have a city council meeting, go there with supporters and pitch your ideas for improving the communities, they will see you as a boon rather than an obstacle if you play the political game correctly.
The other real obstacle can be land owners, but if you can get the city government on your side at the onset, they might help with the persuasion of land owners who are doing nothing but letting land sit and be an eye sore.

Depending on where the neighborhood is located, the locals may need some warming up to the ideas, if they have seen some of the other cities doing this sort of thing, either on the news or from some other source, it will be easier to get them onboard.

Usually it is the local government folks that are the hurdle to jump. Normal people may stand around to watch but after a while they will roll the sleeves up and jump into the dirt pit with you, especially if they see fresh veggies and fruit coming from the space.
 
Tyler Newton
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The land owners are the only thing I'm worried about. I'm not too concerned with the bureaucrats. They can't catch me. 😉 Birmingham AL is a majority African ancestry city so people here are looking for a way to uplift themselves. There is a lot of potential here.

I updated my location, thanks for the tip.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My farm is located on what was the bottom of a lake during the last ice-age, so I consider all plants and animals on my farm to be non-native. Most of the space at my place is devoted to corn, beans, and squash, which are crops native to the Americas, but not to my region. My farm is far away from the native ranges of these crops, so I have spent a lot of effort selecting for families that thrive at my farm.

Bryant RedHawk wrote:Oh, and don't forget to bury a little tobacco and corn at the four corners of any lot before you start the digging of dirt. This is an offering to our earth mother and she appreciates it quite a lot.


This is my second season growing tobacco... I have gifted leaves or whole plants to a number of people, who told me they wanted them as gifts to the land. A few days ago I made my first offering of tobacco directly to our mother earth... The deer people have sure been enjoying the muskmelons this season. And I have been pleased to share. Where else but my farm are they ever going to get such a glorious tasting treat? My next door neighbor sprays poison on his place like it was irrigation water. He also put netting over his grapes, and electric fencing around his garden. There might have been a time when I would have done likewise, but these days I tend to feel happy about feeding all my kin, not just the human kin.



 
Tyler Newton
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Location: Birmingham Alabama
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Joseph,
While I wouldn't devote most of any area to the 3 sisters (and cousin) unless I was recreating a field/meadow biome I consider those to be natives to the americas and certainly a major food for humans and other animals. I just would also like to incorporate annuals, perennials, trees And so on as well for a well rounded and diverse planting area. Thanks for the reply.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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To me, subsistence farming, and farming for food security is not about growing fruits or greens... It is about growing crops that burst out of the ground quickly, and full of vigor so that they can out-compete the weeds, and that produce huge harvests. I focus on growing staples: Foods that can feed my community abundantly, and that can be stored for a long time just as they are harvested: Corn, squash, beans, peas, and potatoes would fit into my definition of subsistence crops. Most of my orchard trees are not native to the Americas. Tree fruits are nice to have for a change, but I find them unsuitable for feeding my community. They are too fragile, and too perishable. I have a hard time even getting them to market without spoiling. Most of my fruits and vegetables are not native to the Americas. I grow a lot of tomatoes, which are native to the Americas, but I view them as a luxury crop, or a flavoring, but not a staple or subsistence crop. My melons are not native to the Americas. Sunroots are native to the Americas and are using up a good chunk of my farm, but they are doing so as weeds. Lambsquarters is also a prolific edible native weed that takes up a lot of space in my garden.
 
Tyler Newton
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Not sure what point you are trying to make Joseph. I think we are mostly on the same page. Although I disagree with a lot of what you are saying I think we are on the same page about corn, beans and squash being native and a good portion of our diet. I think nuts, mushrooms, some greens and some fruits for jams, ciders, and other preserves/beverages all play a key part in providing a part of a 2000 calorie diet. Its not about growing only one or a couple things. Its about whole systems.😉

(Edited to add other examples)
Sunchokes, other roots, other veggies like tomato is a good flavoring crop (and is exactly how I see tomatoes. Not as a main crop) herbs and medicinals for teas and other such stuff
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm personally very interested in native foods and am slowly trying to include them in my garden. Obviously native foods are very region-specific; staples of my region will not be the staples of your region. There were no native agriculturists in my region, they were hunters and gatherers (Apache), and raiders (Comanche). I think it is of value to include regional native foods in a food garden, but in my opinion one shouldn't by any means feel limited to them. It looks like you're wanting to include natives from other regions in your gardens, so maybe what you're really looking for are regionally-adapted crops. For seed of ancient Western American crops, I can not too highly recommend this source: http://nativeseeds.org/ If you are of native ancestry you might be able to obtain seeds at reduced rates.

For lots of information about growing a plant-based diet in the least amount of space, see the work of Ecology Action, who have done various studies about growing nearly complete diets in small amounts of space: http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
Tyler Newton
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Excellent Tyler. Thank you for the info.

Yes I'm interested in mainly american (north,central and south as well as Canadian) natives as I have learned they all adapt fairly well throughout this continent and were probably traded fairly often and widely spread that way. I don't see it as black and white. I'm just trying to stay continent specific if possible. Obviously things like okra and cucumber and even strawberries (from Alaska originally right?) that would adapt well if they were transported by birds or mammals (like us) or what not is still game in my opinion. Just against known invasives but I don't really want to go there cause I know it's a touchy subject.

Food security, economic sovereignty and environmental sustainability are my main goals. I think native american edible plants and traditional land management practices and horticulture are the best thing we in the city can do to begin to repair.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel discusses the productivity of the cultivatable crops and domesticable animals native to each continent. There were great differences, partly due to chance and partly due to geography. When more productive crops were introduced people usually took them up because they were hugely more productive in terms of space, time, and work. Natives are cool and interesting and appropriate for many reasons, but don't assume they are more productive in a particular climate just because they are native there.

It depends on what your main aim is.
Tyler Newton wrote:
I am one of those "feed the billions" permie trying to bring aspects of permaculture/sustainability/ethics to the city and I think using traditional land management practices and natives that has sustained populations before us is a good way to tackle food insecurity. I'm also interested in using these same plants as a way for inner city folks to generate revenue.

If your priority is to produce a lot of food and / or to help folks generate revenue, then maybe you shouldn't stay hung up on native crops.

If your priority is preserving traditions and old crops, then obviously you should focus on native crops.

Both goals are really cool, and elements of both could be mixed, but if you try to implement both goals at once, that might be very difficult.
 
Tyler Newton
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Hey Rebecca. I love guns, germs, and steel and I'm fascinated by how the land has been managed using pre permaculture techniques and what different cultures sustained themselves on. Its amazing to me that instinctually, we knew not to deplete our resources or we wouldn't survive. I think we have lost that. I don't want to appropriate the native american culture as much as learn from their land management practices and diets and of course I'm all about empowerment and self determination. I want to use natives because here in the Americas we are crazy diverse in flora and fauna and have enough here to sustain ourselves. Again I'm not opposed to crops and plants from central and south America and Canada and Alaska. That's a pretty huge area. What else could you want? Natives are only mentioned to mean highly adapted or adaptable plants to this area. Lots of fruit and nut trees, roots, berries, shrooms,herbs/medicines.. Just no known invasives will be planted by me or anyone I work with. Easy. And native edibles/medicinals command top dollar here and elsewhere.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The natives vs invasives issue doesn't seem at all easy to me... I'm growing something like 60 species of food plants in my garden, not counting the medicinal plants... How would I even start to do such simple things as identify the plant, and do sufficient research from sufficiently trusted sources to be able to determine where each one originated... In my area, the indigenous people's land management consisted of frequent burning of vast areas. I wonder how that would go over in an urban setting? In my particular garden, I have great success growing crops that originated in the mountainous areas of central Asia, because the climate and growing season mimics mine very closely. I might as well not even try planting corn from Oaxaca Mexico even though it's from the same continent. I pretty much consider mushrooms to be a no-go at my place. Even if they are native to Coastal California less than a day's drive away. Varieties from Native Seeds/SEARCH weren't very useful to me because our growing conditions are tremendously different: I believe that the difference in growing conditions between southern Arizona and northern Utah is greater than the difference in growing conditions between Utah and Uzbekistan.

If I were a community garden project manager, I don't think that I would be able to educate people to use only American plants, and I'm sure that I wouldn't be able to successfully enforce a ban on non-native plants. In any case, many of the weeds are going to be non-native... Do I use them to build soil fertility? Or do I send them to the landfill because they have messed up the purity of the garden? I believe that the vast majority of the food that Americans eat did not originate in the Americas. I'm not interested in doing the research, but it's there waiting to be done for someone with a passionate vision and lots of time and energy.

These days I find it easiest to say that every plant that is currently growing in my garden or in the nearby wildlands is a native plant.
 
Tyler Newton
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I don't mean to be rude but I can't let misinformation like this slide. I don't have to do extensive research to know that in most native american cultures the food they ate were most certainly mostly natives before colonization. What are the other options? Lol

And you can call whatever you want to native but if it evolved and adapted in Asia it's not native here. Lol maybe not invasive, but not native unless it naturalized along with it's predators/pollinators etc.. There are literally tons of research to back all this up. I may be wrong on details but yeah scientists have a method to determine these things.
 
Tyler Newton
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And fire wasn't the only method of land management used. And not necessarily the most sustainable either in all cases.

Also... Yes I think if you have invasives like kudzu and you choose to use it as you are eradicating it that's great. If you use a mimosa and prevent it from reproducing by chop and drop that works. It is in my opinion not sustainable to introduce these species knowing you won't always be there to take care of them. And invasives often create monoculture when left unchecked which is horrible for the ecosystem and for soil ecology.
 
Meryt Helmer
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I do not know what is native or what would do well in your area but I know there are some very nice edible tubers native to both east and west coasts and I would try and find what tubers or bulbs or root crops might do well where you are.

also I have no idea if prickly pear is native or would do well in your location but it is native to my state and many other states maybe it doesn't go east past texas though? hmm. it is a plant I really love because it is so easy to grow here and so yummy! I adore the nopales! you get a vegetable in the pads and a fruit with the fruit! a fantastic plant.

sunchokes should do well for you and can feed a lot of people.
 
Tyler Newton
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All great suggestions. We do have a variety of nopales here in bama. And Sunchokes get weedy here so definitely will be using them. I'm really into acorns right now too. Thinking acorn noodles as well as acorn soups. I spent a few years in Texas and fell in love. Where my native plant obsession began as well. Loved the nopales, chili piquin, live oaks, mesquite, dewberries, there were soo much more but I forgot them all. Lol. All the other goodies there though and the beauty of the scrublands.
 
Rick English
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I think "native" is a very relative term, because you have to pair it with "when" to become "native to an area in a specific time period." In my area, there are many useful plants that have naturalized in the past 50 years, even more in the past 100 year, and even more in the past 500 years.

That means that the term "native" often becomes a snapshot of a particular time and place. To me, it is more useful focusing on beneficial plants for the current time or future times. There are many plants here labeled "invasive" that are beneficial, depending on your perspective.

Weather patterns seem to be shifting, as they have done many times in history. The flora and fauna of a particular place can be drastically different depending on the time period. In recent history, humans have accelerated the rate of change for local/native species, but mother nature did it herself a long time before humans arrived on the scene.

I guess what I am trying to say, is if the goal is to help uplift and area by growing food and community, limiting yourself to native plants may introduce a counterproductive element. I am not trying to force my opinion on anyone, just sharing an alternative perspective. I think many folks in this community started with an interest in native planting, but have eventually shifted to a focus on beneficial plants for now and the future.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Joseph points out that latitude can be even more important to some crops than mere climatic similarity - he mentions that crops from Native Seed/Search won't grow well for him. All of those crops are from regions which, though mostly arid like his region, are much further South. So that is something to take into account.

Regarding "invasives" - I'm often interested to try to grow something that people call invasive, because then it might actually survive my tough climate and brown thumb! Most things called weedy and invasive haven't grown for me either.


 
Tyler Newton
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Ok, if you aren't interested in using plants from the Americas that's fine. I'm not going to force YOU to. I'm just focusing on mostly natives of the americas on this project and I know that the amount of food/medicine etc that can be produced using these plants are enough to not have to rely on recently introduced exotic species since native americans have sustained and thrived on these same plants. So if you have any suggestions of whole system designs using these plants and how to incorporate them into the urban jungle in an aesthetic type design that could be appreciated by officials (obviously burning is out but that's not a big deal there are more sustainable ways anyhow) I want to hear all those suggestions. FWIW I am not opposed to planting something like figs altogether, if it wants to grow and ppl want to plant it. Hell I'll probably incorporate goats, chickens and whatever else I can get away with too (which aren't all native) so I'm not against exotics, just invasives like kudzu, privet, autumn olive/Russian olive, etc. And I do want to use mainly natives for staples like corn, squash, acorns/nuts, etc..
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here are a couple foraging websites which might help give you an idea of the sorts of edible natives which are available. These can be used in place of an exotic in any kind of landscape design:

http://www.foragingtexas.com/

http://www.eattheweeds.com/

There are other regional foraging websites but I don't know of any as good as these two. There are of course also loads of books about foraging.

 
Tyler Newton
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Thanks, I actually relied on foragingtexas while in Texas. I'm back home in Alabama now so some differences 😉

I have a pretty solid idea of plant I.d and uses etc.. I guess I'm looking for more academic based research. Did they just go into the woods and find the useful stuff and create conditions they favored? Did they do any earthworks?? Propagation? How/what did they trade as "cash crops" or trade crops may be more accurate. Did they "domesticate" any types of animals (deer,Turkey,quail,etc) working on any domestication of plants that got interrupted by us? Those sorts of things.

I have hunted and foraged 😉 a little more around permies and found some good resources and links.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh, ok, I wasn't clear on that. Certainly there are dramatic differences in behavior depending on which people you're studying. As far as I know in my region folks just harvested plants seasonally and probably burned grassland seasonally to encourage regrowth of plants for deer and other game. Not sure if they did any kind of fostering of native plant patches. Some plants such as Sotol and Canada Onion just naturally grow in rather dense patches, so it would have been easy to harvest the older plants and let the younger ones grow on to harvest size. The people might have cleared away some competing vegetation but that doesn't seem necessary.

I think it would be difficult to truly emulate the behavior of forager peoples because you simply won't have the amount of land available to you that they had, nor will you have mature patches of food plants from which you can harvest older plants while leaving the young ones. I think there's more information about the practices of folks who grew annual crops, such as the famous Three Sisters growing techniques. "Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden" is a book about the growing practices of the Hidatsa of the North Central region. https://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780873516600
 
Tyler Newton
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I may not be communicating well enough.
I am not interested in nit picking about how native only won't work. I know they will. That's not the issue. I'm not interested in the small details. I'm using all the land around my city including private lots, abandoned lots, and forested areas. I have plenty of space. First step I'm working on now is to clear invasives and selectively clear both saplings and older dead trees to "clean up" the woods since there are no natural browsers in the area. After clearing and analysis of existing species I will start earthworks and then depending on stage of succession I will start adding plants and promoting species that are there based on their preferences. My only question at this point (since this thread has dissolved into a debate about natives/non natives which I think is really silly to even try and debate since there are scientist that literally devote their lives to this research) is are there any examples of ppl doing this?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm not debating about natives versus non-natives. I think your idea of growing natives is great. I thought you were asking if anyone knew how native peoples grew native foods.

 
Tyler Newton
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At first but I realized (no offense to anyone) that I knew as much as anyone posting about native american land management so I wanted to redirect convo towards contemporary examples.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Tyler Newton
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I don't even know if I want to keep using native American land management since ppl have also been quick to try and dismiss that. I'm influenced by native american land management, but I'm not native american, and I have no interest in appropriating their culture by using their spiritual practices or anything like that. Strictly how they Fed themselves.
 
Tyler Newton
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Perfect example. Thank you,Tyler
 
Jennifer Richardson
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So when I think about feeding people there are a few areas I consider:

- Staple crops: Lots of calories, store well. Tend to be starches but don't have to be.

- Nutritional crops: Supplemental to the staple crops. Provide vitamins/minerals/micronutrients and prevent nutrient deficiencies and generally suboptimal health.

- Animal protein: This is somewhere in between a staple and a nutritional supplement. You don't actually need much meat to stay in decent shape if you can get enough calories elsewhere, but some form of animal protein tends to also help stave off nutritional deficiencies and is a dense source of calories and protein.

I think natives have different abilities to meet needs in these various areas, and I'll discuss my own situation with regards to each category (I do rely largely on natives--which I somewhat arbitrarily define as plants having a pre-European presence within my state or preferably my county--for my own food, but that's just on a family scale).

For staple crops, our major native producers are pecans and oaks. The nuts store pretty well (about a year, but not multiple years, really, unless you freeze them). They have lots of calories and are abundant. I eat the pecans as they are and bake everything with them. I tend to make the acorns into flour. To modern palates, acorns are not incredibly appealing, but people respond well to my acorn bread that is about half wheat flour and half acorn flour. Black walnuts are also tasty but there aren't many of them left and they are so hard to crack. I don't personally grow much in the way of starchy staples, but Jerusalem artichokes are a good one. Most people in the US are currently consuming too many calories anyway and would probably do better to eat more nutritional crops and fewer staple crops (with exceptions, obviously). But it is good to have reliable staples that store well.

For nutritional crops, it's easy to use native sources if you are willing to forgo the privileges of the modern palate. There are few places except around the poles where one cannot find sufficient herbaceous edibles to be going on with. There are tons of edible weeds, herbs, flowers, and greens of various kinds that I subsist on (although I might be somewhat concerned about lots of people suddenly trying to subsist on all but the weedy species, for reasons of sustainability). They are not staples in the sense of contributing much to calories, but they contribute a lot to nutrition and are often useful medicinally and for other purposes such as dye, fiber, etc. The same goes for tree fruits, vine fruits, and berries. I can eat and preserve (via canning and dehydration, mostly) all I need to keep myself happy and nutritionally sound without ever relying on an introduced species or even a deliberately planted/cultivated native specimen. Deliberately planting or cultivating these natives would probably substantially increase the number of people that could be fed with them. Contenders in this area include our two different native persimmons (Diospyros texana & Diospyros virginiana), red mulberry (Morus rubra), various Prunus species (wild plums and cherries), Mustang grapes, dewberries, pawpaws, maypops (Passiflora incarnata), and occasionally others such as hackberry or whatever I happen to come across. The only reason I ever buy fruit or salad greens or plant non-native fruits or vegetables is for the luxury of taste.

Animal protein is a trickier question in some respects. I personally don't purchase much meat and rely on wild fish, game, reptiles, insects, etc. Many people will not eat like that. There are ways to make some things more palatable to squeamish people (e.g. cricket flour). There is also the issue of sustainability. Some species whose predators have been eliminated are too prolific and actually benefit from being eaten (well, not on an individual basis, but...). Others are fragile and shouldn't be messed with. Many people expect to eat a lot of meat, and if we all tried to eat wild game the way we eat cows, chickens, pigs, etc. it would probably be an ecological disaster. I actually preferentially eat non-native species of animal (like our feral hogs) to try to keep them under control. A person needs to be knowledgeable, observant, and conscientious in this area.
 
Tyler Newton
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Location: Birmingham Alabama
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Wow, Jennifer.. Yes, yes, yes. Exactly what I am looking for. I don't see your location on your profile but you mentioned some southern plants.. Are you int the south? How much land do you have/use? How did you get started?
 
Tegan Russo
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Location: Maritime Northwest USA, zone 8b
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Before European settlement, the people in my area were hunters, fishers, and foragers. Although I'm sure they fostered the foods they liked in the landscape, they did not practice gardening as we think of it. As far as I know, plant foods came from two major areas: berries and roots. None of the roots are now cultivated for food. So if I was going to do something like this in my area, I'd either go the direction of planting/harvesting native berries (some of which have the advantage of being popular urban landscaping plants already) or attempting to cultivate and breed camas and wapato as food crops.

I foraged about a gallon of blackberries from my urban neighborhood this summer, and I could probably get a lot more if I put in more hours and went for salal berries as well. I think what's best for you will come down to what you can research about your local history and climate. Bramble berries and the blueberry family grow wonderfully with basically no care in my climate, compared to a lot of fruit trees which are high maintenance and disease prone. And these days we have the technology to preserve delicate berries through canning and freezing. Your native food sources probably also naturally grow well where you are and a little bit of tending will make them very productive.
 
Tyler Ludens
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One drawback I have experienced with incorporating native foods into my diet is that many of them in my area are rather yucky tasting. For instance Sotol, one of the staple carbohydrate foods, is a blandly greenish-tasting fibrous stem which takes hours to cook. I think in order to turn folks on to growing native foods as a diet, one might need to learn how to prepare them in tasty ways, either that or only concentrate on growing those which are naturally tasty like the berries and nuts. I've not been able to incorporate many native foods into my diet because of the yuck factor. Also, many native foods are much more tedious to prepare than domestic foods; again the example of the Sotol which requires hours of cooking, or cattail which needs fussy peeling for a little bit of not especially tasty vegetable.

This is just my personal experience with native foods; those in other regions might be a lot more yummy.

 
Tyler Newton
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Definitely Tyler. I've been looking for recipes as I go along. Have you heard about the "Sioux Chef" using wild game and and some foraged edibles in dishes for his restaurant?
Also there is a cool website called hunt, gather, fish with some rad recipes. And... There is a cool dude on Facebook named Pascal something that does amazing things with wild foods including wild brews etc.. Facebook page he posts on a lot is edible wild plants. Pascal Baudar. Based in cali. I'm telling you he is a genious. Check him out.
 
Tyler Newton
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http://honest-food.net/ is the website I mentioned. Tried to add as attachment but didn't see it. I suck with technology.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, Tyler.

Solution to the yucky Sotol problem: http://thelatinkitchen.com/drinks/spirits/a/sotol-101
 
Jennifer Richardson
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Location: Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone
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I don't see your location on your profile but you mentioned some southern plants.. Are you int the south? How much land do you have/use? How did you get started?


Huh, weird, I've had my location up since I first joined...maybe something to do with the beta view on the site currently? Can other people see it? Anyway, I live near Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone. Gulf coastal prairie ecoregion, more or less, although there's something of a confluence of different ecoregions in my area.

I hit the jackpot in that we have family land, about 550 acres. It is currently dedicated to cattle ranching (not by my choice) and there were some gravel pits dug out in the '50s which fill from creek runoff and river flooding and provide habitat for lots of tasty fish, reptiles, and amphibians (white perch, bass, catfish, turtles, bullfrogs, mainly), plus waterfowl. I use pretty much all the land to spread out my impacts when hunting and wild harvesting. That being said, I could probably provide all/the vast majority of my diet from about an acre of intensively cultivated land using only native species, but they'd have to be "gardened" and not just wild harvested.

When I lived in Austin, TX, I provided a smaller portion of my diet in this manner, but most of the food sources I mentioned were still available and there was little competition for them; for instance, pecans, not to mention acorns, rotted on the ground, and weeds are present anywhere. I liked to harvest them from people's plots at the organic community garden near me, since I could be sure that they weren't sprayed with weird 'cides and the gardeners were happy about it (I always asked permission, of course). Fruit crops and animal protein were harder to come by, but not impossible. I didn't trust the water to fish in. I trapped some squirrels while I was there, but I didn't have a good understanding of how animal populations worked there and was reluctant to kill many. In some ways they seemed like overpopulated pests, but it also seemed that the places they were present were mostly refugia into which they had been forced and so I mostly just left them alone. It always frustrated me that they'd plant crepe myrtles by the thousands, or decorative natives, but no one would plant any of our native fruit trees in the parks, campuses, or other areas. I can understand avoiding fruit trees where they might drop fruit on cars or sidewalks, but you'd think that parks, woody areas, and neglected areas would have been just fine, but no.

I also forgot to mention in my last post a major food plant for me, which is prickly pear cactus. The fruits are good to eat and for jams, syrups, and wines, and the pads are the most substantial wild vegetable I harvest (makes a nice change from just leafy stuff) and are really tasty when cooked up. They were also available in Austin although not as easily.

In more arid areas of Texas, leguminous trees such as mesquite were a major staple, but they don't really grow in my particular area that I know of.

I was also lucky in that I had older parents, and my dad and his family had been in this area for a long time, so there were strong traditions of eating and preparing native food and game. Dad was a really good hunter and fisherman, one of the best around. I'm nowhere near his level, but I can fend for myself pretty well. These foods were prized--a good snap sausage recipe or duck and dressing or gumbo or a way of making dewberry pie or Mustang jelly or wine is something people still take seriously here, and getting to go hunting, fishing, or frog gigging with older relatives/friends was a big deal when I was little. Showing younger kids when we were camping out how to fillet a fish and wrap and bury it under coals, or singe the tiny thorns from prickly pears was fun and made us feel good. So I had a head start to some degree. I have delved deeper into the less valued food plants (mostly the weeds) as I've gotten older and more into this sort of thing, by reading books, websites, forums like this one, etc. I also make it a point to talk to older people in town, borrow their old cookbooks and family recipe files, and ask everybody I know about local foods and how they prepare them.

If you're interested, I keep a list of Texas native plants that I eat and otherwise use on Google Docs. It's a work in progress, not comprehensive, but it may give you some idea of how I subsist, and of course many of the plants aren't limited to Texas:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ACVDAL7mY2-HFn1HPqlO-Dmn7m1YtJ0mRL2dmAJmU-o/edit?usp=sharing

 
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