“On episode #42 of the Green Root Podcast, host and ex-farmhand, Josh Schlossberg, gets his hands dirty with writer, podcaster, and organic farmer, Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, to unearth the roots of the agricultural revolution, the ecological and societal impacts of industrial ag, and how humanity might find a balance between growing food and preserving nature.”
A place-based, indigenous approach to ecological restoration in eastern Oregon
“Restoration of habitats and regenerative, localized food production need to be foundational in our economies moving forward. We should be turning resources towards these efforts with the same vigor the destruction and depletion was carried out with. Sucking the life out of our lands while polluting the water to grow human fodder void of nutrition and send it oversees to the highest bidder is a march toward extinction and most are chained to this way of life by the corporate oligarchies that have more rights than human beings or the very sources of our lives. Many of us know and are implementing place based solutions that ensure a future for all.”Bobby Fossek, II
(Quotations from Bobby Fossek in this article are drawn from my podcast interview with him, which you can listen to here.)
Cove, Oregon, is a tiny town in the eastern part of the state that most Oregonians haven’t even heard of. Surrounded by fields of conventional monocrops in the heart of conservative ranching country, it seems an unlikely place for leading edge cultural transformation, and yet it is, thanks to what might strike some as an unlikely partnership between Native Americans and the Episcopal Church.
I first visited Cove, and met Bobby Fossek and his family, in the summer of 2017. I was traveling in the area with a friend on a foraging and wildtending mission that also took us to Hell’s Canyon. Bobby’s place was our base camp for a few days of picking and processing cherries from nearby trees, and we cooperated together in setting up drying racks and running their steam juicer.
Bobby is a Walla Walla and Yakima descendant from the Umatilla Reservation. In his youth, he picked up some traditional knowledge from his father, but it wasn’t until later in life that he committed more fully to learning and practicing the skills of his ancestors. Perhaps ironically, the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon provided the particular means to do so that he is now pursuing.
The term “native plant” has become a common one, and many people probably assume that the definition is clear cut. However, like many other seemingly simple designations, that’s not the case.
Whether a given plant is considered “native” where it is found growing is dependent on the interpretation of the interrelation of three factors: time, place and human involvement.
So, in the United States, a plant is generally considered native only if it grew here before European colonization. On the East Coast, that’s the 1500s and in California, that’s 1769. Plants introduced since then, whether deliberately or by accident, are labeled “non-native,” “introduced,” “exotic,” or in some cases, “invasive.”
In the UK, some would set the date for ~8000 years ago, when rising sea levels made those landmasses islands.
On Friday, April 3rd, Finisia Medrano—also known as “Tranny Granny”—died in Nevada. She was a well-known, or rather, notorious personality in rewilding / wildtending / primitive skills circles. Her name was praised and cursed, but even her critics had to acknowledge her experience and expertise when it came to Native American first foods and how to cultivate them in the wild. She inspired not one but three chapters in my book, “The Failures of Farming & the Necessity of Wildtending.”
The mark Granny made on the world is undeniable and will bear fruit for years to come. Her labors have been picked up by many others, especially among the younger generations, who are hungry for change. I count myself lucky to have spent time with her multiple times.
I originally wrote this article in September 2012, after meeting her earlier that year.
This Spring my farming partners and I found ourselves landless. For the past eight years, we had been actively exploring a variety of forms and practices of small-scale agriculture and restoration, including bicycle-based urban farming, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), plant-breeding and seed-saving, staple crops (grains, legumes and oilseeds) and the cultivation and processing of medicinal herbs (no, not pot). Last year I wrote an article, “Who Will Feed The People?”, discussing the challenges to small-scale agriculture in the United States, such as lack of equipment, knowledge, financial resources, and markets; the polluted wasteland left behind by conventional farming; increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns brought by Climate Change; and, last but not least, the social barriers: people of the U.S. are by and large uninterested in significant changes to the socio-economic status quo, and resist cutting edge projects. It was the social factor — which can and did embody a profound hostility to Truth — that brought down our own farming efforts, at least for now.
With sadness and anger, we put our tools and seeds in storage, found foster homes for our perennial medicinals, and raised traveling cash by selling our home (a school bus) and an old but reliable Volvo. After tearfully parting with our beloved farm cat, two of us hit the road in an old pickup to see what we could see.
This journey took us to Eastern Oregon to seek out Finisia Medrano, a.k.a. “Tranny Granny”, a Shoshone-trained elder who knows the ways of “The Hoop”, an ancient tradition of food gathering and cultivation that sustained the Native Americans and the land in good health for thousands of years until being violently disrupted by the European Invasion. The Hoop is not dead but, as we were to see, is severely threatened.
I’m super pleased that I got to be a guest on Kelly Moody’s “Ground Shots” Podcast!
From Kelly’s show notes, we talked about:
- the pros and cons of permaculture
- wild-tending as not just using knowledge from the past but adapting to a changing world
- some connections between patriarchy, organized religion and slavery
- the blurry line between gatherer-hunter life-ways and small scale agriculture
- horticulture vs. agriculture
- some history of agriculture, the negative impacts of agriculture on health and culture
- Kollibri’s various books and zines on farming, wild-tending, ‘invasive’ plants, and place-based travel
- questioning victorian ideas of gatherer-hunter culture and the transition to agriculture
- the importance of an interdisciplinary approach and looking at things from many angles, avoiding ‘silo’ing when possible
- the importance of practicing small scale agriculture with the fragmented ecology and culture we have right now
- the racist origins of wilderness, national parks and public lands, and the continued racism in these institutions or ideas
- what to expect from Kollibri’s new podcast ‘Voices For Nature and Peace’
Over the last few months, I have been writing more and more often about the need of people in Western civilization to pay attention to indigenous wisdom and knowledge. In that spirit, my first post of 2020 is an edited transcript of a phone interview I did with Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, a Cherokee activist/scholar, in December 2017.
Woodley has authored several books including “An Introduction to Postcolonial Theologies,” “The Harmony Tree: A Story of Healing and Community” and “Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.” When I met him in Portland in 2013 he was farming outside Newberg, Oregon, and employed as a Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture at George Fox University/Portland Seminary. Currently, Woodley and his family are working to establish Eloheh, an Indigenous Center For Earth Justice, in eastern Oregon.
This is an abridged version of the full interview, which is included as a chapter in my book, “The Failures of Farming & the Necessity of Wildtending.”
Human survival is most at risk from two threats: environmental disaster and war. The two are closely linked, so much so that if you care about one, you can’t ignore the other.
First, because militarism is hostile to the environment. The US is the biggest villain in that department, with the Pentagon being the worst institutional polluter on the planet, more than 140 countries combined. That’s not just from flying drones, driving tanks and moving around fleets of ships; it’s also from heating, cooling, powering and otherwise keeping up nearly 800 bases around the world, and from feeding, clothing and outfitting at least 1.3 million active personnel. Additionally, the military is also responsible for an untold amount of toxic waste, some of it radioactive, at an uncountable number of locations around the world, including 900 superfund sites in the US.
Secondly, US warmongering is a significant roadblock to the kind of one-for-all/all-for-one global cooperation that’s needed to tackle the multiple environmental crises we are facing, from climate change to agricultural pollution to habitat destruction. Everyone is constantly kept on edge by the big bully who doesn’t want to see anybody acting independently. Sanctions, coups, missile strikes and full-on invasions are among the all-too-common punishments for those who dare try, as recent news bears out.
US militarism fits the description of imperialism. That’s an unpopular word in the US, but to any honest student of history, it is clear that the US is a indeed bona fide empire. No, it’s not the same shape as the British Empire, but that one was in turn different from Napoleon’s or Alexander’s or Genghis Khan’s. Each takes its own form.
In the case of the US, “empire” refers not just to the nation’s role in the world, but also to the circumstance of its existence on the North American continent. The area was invaded by several European powers starting in the 16th Century and most of the original inhabitants were killed or driven off and their land stolen. But this is not merely a set of events in the past; it is an ongoing reality. The “Indian Wars” never ended.
What we label as “the United States” is not a legitimate nation but an illegal occupation.
My new book, “Roadtripping at the End of the World,” is now available! For a limited time, you can order an autographed copy direct from me. When these run out, the book will be available only on Amazon.
When you order the hard copy, you will also get the book in all its digital versions (PDF, epub, Kindle). Or you can order just the digital versions.
This book is a collection made up of eight essays inspired my travels around the USA and six interviews with activists I met along the way. A few appeared online previously, but much of the material is brand new.
Check out this excerpt: “Virgin Prairie: Rarer Than Old-Growth Forest”
The book is available at four prices:
- Regular Price (includes shipping in USA): $17.50
- Patron Price (extra support for the author): $35.00
- Solidarity Price (low income/student): $10
- Digital downloads only (PDF, epub, mobi & azw3): $5
If you would like to order multiple copies, please contact me.
I was born and raised in Nebraska, but my curiosity about the native prairies was not piqued until years later. In September 2018, over twenty-five years since the last time I lived in the state, I finally visited a remnant of original, unplowed prairie, located outside the city of Lincoln and entirely surrounded by the farmland that replaced most of it. I was entranced by what I found.
Here it is, that time of year (the fourth Thursday in November) when we are all beseeched to consider “what we are thankful for.” This mass cultural ritual imposes a conformity of thought that does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed or gender; it goes way deeper. The fundamentals (literally, the foundational elements) of the “American” mind are laid each year at this time.
Those fundamentals hold that we are a strong, brave, resourceful people—whether by our evolved nature or by the grant of a deity—standing atop the shining hill of history, surveying our domain. This belief is adorned with different coats, some prettier than others, varying by class or other social division, but itself is unquestioned except on the margins of society.
Like many other beliefs, this one is false. It is far more accurate to describe our role simply as “occupier.” That is, what is called “the United States” is factually an active occupation. Those of us here who have no Native American heritage are engaging in ongoing acts of military, cultural and economic war not only against the people who lived here first but against the land itself.