Monday, May 16, 2011

There Must Be A Easier Way...

This is tiring work, building up a mini-homestead from a trailer park lot and trying to get it basically done in one season!  A lot of days, I'm starting to wonder if this is all worth it.  Surely, there must be an easier way!

Well, I suppose some people could and would just go to the store and buy all their food, but considering the severe limitations on my budget and near snobbishness about what my family eats, demanding a high quality, all natural product at nearly no cost, that's just not going to happen for me.

I suppose "normal" people with my food budget (about $30 a week for a family of 5-6, if you are just joining me) would probably go to a food bank or two on a pretty regular basis.  Again, I don't see that as an option for us, in part because of the requirement that my family be fed good food...and because I don't know where there are any food banks around here. 

There is one other option that I know about.  No, not stealing, since that has the potential to be extremely costly in other ways, like the risk of getting caught, not to mention any karmic retribution.  I'm talking about wild harvesting or foraging.  I actually did turn to that way years ago, before I had the space and knowledge to garden in limited space.  When my oldest son was about 2 years old, I tried to live with his dad for a while and things were extremely tight then too.  We got absolutely no government help (probably only because I didn't know how to apply for it, since I'm sure we would have qualified!), not even WIC and only had about $5 a month to spend on food for the three of us.  That's right--$5 a month!  At the time, my parents' house was too far away to get help from them in the way of garden produce, so that wasn't even an option for help.  We were on our own.  Every now and then, my son's idiot dad would bring home some fancy-schmancy meat-alternative thing, since were leaning toward vegetarianism at the time, but he was not shopping savvy at all, so sometimes that was the only grocery for the week beyond the $5 I had access to.  And that $5 went toward buying milk for our toddler.  I'd sometimes snag a little for cooking too though--which helped a lot for making the weeds I'd scrounge up more palatable.

I'm sure I did a lot of things wrong on my foraging expeditions.  I had access to field guides from the library, but that didn't always tell me what I needed to know, like how to find the weeds that didn't taste like, well, weeds!  I think I have found such a book for future expeditions though.* Pocket Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants by Kathryn Higgins is a clear, concise guide to wild edibles.  Unlike a lot of the books I used at the time, this "pocket guide" will actually fit in a pocket (yes, I tested this with my jeans' pocket!) and it's spiral binding makes it easy to manipulate and use in the field.  If you are looking for a particular plant, for example, it would be very easy to leave it open to the page with the beautiful photo of that plant to make identification very easy.  Each entry also gives a brief, easy to understand and use description of the plant itself, as well as edible, medicinal, and other uses, so you can see at a glance if that is something worth picking when you find it!

Some other features I love about this book is that it gives clear warnings for a lot of plants that need them, like ones you don't want to use if pregnant or ones that may have a similar looking poisonous plant.  Another thing I love is that it has listings of further resources in the back, including to more field guides (mostly for the western US and Rocky Mountain areas), more books on medicinal uses of plants, as well as cookbooks for wild edibles and books on making medicines from the wild plants.  I especially could have used those further resources years ago!  I had to guess on a lot of things...and I'm sure I guessed wrong more often than not!  The book also has gathering guidelines in the back to make foraging trips more successful and some wonderful blank pages in the back--brilliant for keeping track of where you found things for previous years, or making notes of what worked or didn't for recipes or medicines.

Even though this book was probably written for and about more the western US and/or Rocky Mountains, there were still a lot of plants I recognized as being in Michigan as well.  This is a case where I can clearly see that the price of buying this book would well be worth it, since by using the information in it to feed your family and gather plants to make homemade medicines, it could easily save someone thousands of dollars over a lifetime!

As for me, I probably will use this book quite a bit, once I get the garden going.  However, for now, as I pull the many weeds already growing in my garden, it was also a source of frustration, as I realized that most, if not all the "weeds" I had been pulling out and tossing aside, were also food.  On some level, foraging can be easier than gardening, but I like the assurance and insurance of having fruits and vegetables I know my family likes growing right in my Trailer Park Homestead.
Find the food:  I was just trying to grow spinach here (lower right hand corner), but, if I'm not mistaken every single plant here is just as edible!

*   Disclaimer:  Pocket Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants was sent to me as a freebie to review.  I told the representative of Motherlove Herbal Company, who published the book, that I would only be interesting on doing any reviews if I was completely honest about any products I reviewed.


  1. I also have been working on the wild edibles in my yard, so far I've ID not quite a dozen. I've also began to 'transplant' some I find in fields for future use. I do not use those I find on the edges of the fields since I don't like what the farmers put on their plants, so the 'weeds' are contaminated but I'm hoping that their 'offspring' won't be. I'll probably wait a few seasons before harvesting these. I have no where to grow cat tails but I would LOVE to be able to do this. The only "swampy/damp" part of my yard is in the front and city doesn't like 'weeds' and will levy a fine if they get too tall. One of the reasons I'm going for raised beds....they can't say anything about anything grown in them. lol! I will be checking out the book you've recommended. I carry at least two books out in the field with me. Some things are illegal to harvest here though. I use to live in MI and would wander around my neighborhood (walking) and find some amazing things in the fields and woods. I was constantly looking out for berries since they grow all over (it seemed) wherever I happened to be. Raspberries, Blackberries, blueberries.... I don't know how far from your home you can travel; but look for those abandoned fields/woods and go hiking...take plenty of zip lock bags to carry your goodies home. I use zip lock bags and a back pack to carry my things. Small hand shovel also. But I like the idea of being able to whip out the plant book without having to take off the back pack. :) I appreciate your blog, it has encouraged me to work on my yard/garden and blog. :)

  2. You may want to also check out old abandoned homesteads and/or empty foreclosed homes for your foraging. I get apples, grapes, asparagus, sunchokes, lemons, prickly pear, figs and tons of berries. One foreclosed home a friend and I checked out had a backyard full of volunteer tomatoes, peppers and eggplants!

  3. I wish I knew more about foraging. I only go as far as the wild onions. But there are so many useful plants, many in our yards even.