Wild Edibles in the Backyard

dandelion

When my family returned home after a month overseas, we opened the fridge to find a red cabbage, parsnips, and some condiments. I had done my pre-trip food clearout well! But my family was hungry and I wanted to make a noodle soup, which we always make with (usually green) vegetables. But even a hunt in the freezer uncovered only some corn.

Instead of heading to the store, my kids went outside. After minimal hunting, we discovered a range of edibles growing wild in our yard. They found and collected plantain, garlic mustard, and dandelion leaves (my only input was to ask for the youngest dandelion leaves, which get bitter as they age). Prompted by the kids, I went outside too and found a few fiddleheads that hadn’t yet unfurled, some young stinging nettle, and a pile of shiitake mushrooms (the only food we were responsible for – I set up some mushroom logs a few years ago). I fried the mushrooms and the greens went in the soup and we ate a nutritious and delicious lunch.

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The children’s readiness to eat from the yard I hope is due partly to gardening with them, but it’s also from The PINE Project. With a tagline of “be more, need less”, PINE offers a range of outdoor education opportunities for children and adults based on mentorship. My kids participate through school trips, as well as summer camp. Through storytelling, games, and other activities, the kids learn naturalist skills in the parks, ravines, and the yards of Toronto and beyond.

One of the unique themes of PINE is that nature isn’t only in the forest wilderness or other more pristine spaces. Rather, it’s around us always, including our urban spaces, including our front and back yards. PINE has shown them how to do a lot of things outdoors, including how to identify edible species in our natural surroundings, and never to eat anything at all unless completely sure of what it is. This last skill helped fill our bellies the other day, and creates a closer connection with the natural world that I am conscious of, but that I hope my kids take mostly for granted.

There are lots of nature programs offered in our city (thank goodness!) but PINE may be unique in its emphasis on deepening relationship with ourselves, each other, and our communities through connection with the natural environment. Offering programs for adults also – I have friends who felt changed forever by The Art of Mentoring – PINE is a far-reaching program with something for everyone.

If you do check out their programming, keep in mind that it’s one of those places where spots fill up months in advance (I signed up in early February for our summer camp spots.)

However you do it, may we encourage you to get outside – it’s May and (finally) glorious in Toronto!

Please note that Plenty was not sponsored by The PINE Project to write about it. We just really like their project.

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