As we enter fall, the "Harvest Season," I'm finding myself thinking a lot about the ways in which we approach harvesting — and not just about which tools are best for what tasks, or about pumpkin spice lattes made with real pureed pumpkin, but rather how the worldview we hold dictates the approach we employ when harvesting.
Needless to say, I have a bias, and one that is based on "sustainability" practices and the premise that we as a society are overdue for an overhaul in the ways we relate to Earth's resources. This very word, "resources," begins with the prefix 're-," which means to make anew and with a sense of mutuality.
Re-sources mean that there is a cyclical flow to the process of giving and taking, of creation and deconstruction. This relationship, between give and take, is evidently out of balance and is the focus of this article. But to move forward, sometimes we absolutely must look behind us and take the lead from indigenous peoples who are currently practicing ancient ways of relating to the community of life on this planet.
The "Honorable Harvest" is a term used and described in Robin Wall-Kimmerer's book Braiding Sweetgrass.
Robin is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She writes that the harvesting process becomes "honorable" to all beings involved, directly and indirectly, when the human treats the plant or animal essentially as a person, as sentient, with every right to exist separate from our dependence upon it (read any works on the topic of "Deep Ecology" for more on this philosophy).
Some herbalists, gardeners, and farmers are familiar with the concepts of "ethical harvesting/wildcrafting" and "sustainable agriculture." These methods closely resemble the Honorable Harvest; however, to practice harvesting with honor, one must examine personal motivations, one's deepest cultural influences, and one's worldview.
For anyone who gardens, farms, makes their own herbal remedies, and who eats or consumes plant and animal life, these Honorable Harvesting guidelines from Robin Wall-Kimmerer can be learned and employed with your future harvests and be held in your minds and hearts while sitting down for your meals:
- Ask permission. This may seem silly, but is it, really? Do we make people hug us? If we do not ask, as Robin says, that is stealing.
- Never take the first or the last. Harvest when there are the most individuals present and never take more than 20-30% of the population when harvesting from the wild.
- Harm reduction while harvesting. How are your actions affecting non-targeted species, for instance?
- Only take what you need. You can go back for "seconds" if you need more.
- Use everything, every part, of what you've taken.
- Cull only once it is given to you. Here, "given" means to receive a "yes" after asking. If you don't know how to do this or are laughing now, I urge you to meditate on this.
- Continue the circle of sharing, as the Earth has shared its beings with you for sustenance.
- Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. It's a notion that is in vogue right now, but it really cannot be overstated. Create your gratitudes in a way that works for you — completely silent or out loud and proud!
- Remember reciprocity. Sustain those that sustain you. Gifts are meant to be reciprocated in some way, in due time.
My aunt and I were recently talking about someone who used to pick every berry off the bush because, if he didn't, it was considered "waste" in his mind.
This was a viewpoint that originated in his learned family and in cultural perspectives and experiences. To hoard the best and throw the scraps "to the birds" is the kind of thinking that has created the very measurable imbalances we are experiencing today.
To pick blackberries in the Pacific Northwest in August, or to catch lobsters in the cold (but warming) North Atlantic Ocean, while heeding honorable harvest principles, means to leave some juicy bites for the birds we love to hear sing and to allow all species to reproduce and thrive in their own right, sprouting new life for future caring hands to harvest and hungry bellies to feed.
Writer Erin Lanum is a clinically trained herbalist and certified death midwife with years of focus on nutrition, herbs, sustainability, ethical wild-crafting, death and dying, and human connection to the ecosystems inside and out. Erin holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon, is a graduate of Columbine's School of Botanical Studies 4-year apprenticeship program in Eugene, OR, and a former student of Paul Berger at North American Institute of Medical Herbalism in Boulder, CO. Both Oregon and Washington are where she calls home, but she is grateful for her years in Hawaii and Colorado because making "home" in many places has broadened her sense of place.
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