Posted by: Re.Rooting | 16 May, 2008

Johnny Appleseed Coalition

Johnny AppleseedAn initiative to propogate wild food plants all across the country. In order to improve sustainability and the perceived value of wild land for its stakeholders, it would be an idea to send out teams of volunteers along with natural resource specialists to help propogate wild, native plants in:

  • national, state and city parks
  • rural, suburban and urban areas.
  • institutional grounds
  • reservations, hunting grounds, etc.

Promotion would be very easy, considering that the Johnny Appleseed legend is a well known and established part of american folklore. As well, it would be mimicking what america’s indigenous peoples have done for thousands of years, wherein they selected for wild food varieties and were able to propogate “wild food parks”, where careful and controlled burns allowed them to select for fruit and nut trees, and to create open grassland to encourage deer, elk, bison, etc.
Heres a list of wild, native plants off the top of my head:

  • wild rice
  • wild oats
  • wild onions
  • wild garlic
  • crabapples
  • peach trees
  • flax
  • certain kinds of tubers, rhizomes, etc.
  • wild lettuce
  • acorn, hickory, walnut, etc.
  • blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, manyberries!!
  • watercress

Of course the johnny appleseed coalition would not be encouraging people to do controlled burns. But by simply propogating wild food in an ecosystem, it would encourage more positive activity and could allow vast areas to return to their original state rather than being stagnant. Humans are animals too and, when we treat it carefully, we can be blessings to ecosystems.wild oats, native to many areas of the U.S.

Another thing to discourage, then, would be any sort of tractors or machine propagation or such that might disturb the fragile ecosystems where this would be taking place. As well, natural resource managers and conservation biologists would be indispensable for this kind of task. Zooarceologists and ecoarcheologists would also be helpful in discerning what wild food plants were native to what areas under what ecological conditions. Special care would be taken to encourage that no invasive varieties would be introduced, but at the same time, that no resources would be wasted on something that would be quickly selected out ecologically.

The group could formulate a database of wild, native food plants and with GIS systems pinpoint what regions would be suitable for what plants, and with the help of scientists figure out the best ways to propogate them in an area (example: planting flax seeds on the top of a hill in the common direction of wind so that a grassy area would be abundant with flax in only a few years as the seeds spread).

The importance of this is in promoting resource abundance, as we face the dangers of resource scarcity and all the problems of living by unsustainable lifeways. It would promote biodiversity in an area as these resources would be able to compete with invasive, inedible species, and they would self propogate and be able to survive off of natural rain and soil without the input that gardening or farming requires. Such a program would encourage us to be positively involved with the ecosystems we live in and to promote a more sustainable environment for us and for our progeny. People could supplement what was grown in their garden, with local CSAs or by local farmers with wild gathered food. Not only would this promote healthy environments and healthy people, but it would provide an opportunity for families and friends to go out and enjoy the fruits of wildlife conservation and give more depth and nuance to our nations protected lands. It would also provide a learning experience so that people could understand the importance of promoting biodiversity and robust ecosystems as the world is increasingly faced with the pains of corporate monoculture and land resource mismanagement.

Air Potato - Native to Florida

It would call back to times past when this was much more common, say back in the 30’s when the economically downtrodden would go out and gather berries or nuts or watercress or hunt wild animals to get some food on their stomachs. My mother tells me of times her older relatives would go about and gather wild ginseng to sell on the market. And, in other times when things were still well, people would go about and gather wild food just to enjoy the fruits of our nation’s greatest treasure: its land and ecosystems. I grew up in a house that sat on land near lake eerie where a vineyard once had been, and we had wild grapes growing on our back fence. Many times we would go out and gather them and make jam or just pick a few and eat them for the pleasure. They weren’t your supermarket grapes, they were plush and moist and they oozed. They were sweet and delicious. And we didn’t have to do anything to keep them going, they were always there, as long as we left them.

Upon returning to that house, among many changes residents since have made, the grapes have been torn down from the fence. Why, I do not understand (they left the wooden jungle gym at least), even if you didnt see the value in eating them, they were beautiful regardless. They also chopped down the huge old oak tree, the biggest and oldest on the street, one where we used to play around and that provided so much shade and so many memories and an abundance of acorns for the local squirrels. Now they have erosion problems, and whats likely, cooling problems. One would hope that humanity will begin to learn from the mistakes it has been making in the past few decades in managing its natural resources, as knowledge dissemination through the generations happens less and less. Hopefully things like the Johnny Appleseed Coaltion, if realised, would be a means of disseminating this invaluable ethnobotanical knowledge through the generations as more and more people begin to depend more and more on supermarkets and heavily processed foods that travel halfway around the world. Hopefully the systems are in place to change this. And if not, grassroots isn’t too hard to get going, once you get the seeds in the ground.



  1. Have you found any good data on integrating GIS into permaculture and guerrilla gardening projects? I’m definitely very interested in building as much public domain information as possible into accessible formats and central locations. Visualization is going to be very important in the immediate future for both self-awareness and promoting these concepts to others. Rapidly available, user customizable data mapping would be especially great — and necessary.

    • im not sure, but something of that sort would be really sweet. there are a lot of GIS tools out there. ArcGIS is a good place to start, and with enough practice you can get pretty efficient with it. I’m sure that there are tie-ins like that oriented toward permaculture and urban gardening and green geurillas kinda stuff. As a campus landscaper I was always proud to leave food plants hidden by folks when weeding. GIS would make those kind of operations a lot easier, especially when dealing with parks, rooftops, hidden nooks and crannies, etc. Its also great for planning urban and peri-urban foodsheds. I’m not super familiar with GIS but im sure many down geographers and ecologists/ environmental scientists about your town have some competence with the software.

      As far as visualizing software in general goes, however, I would totally recomend Compendium for knowledge and concept mapping. Check it out and EcoSensus, where they integrate Udig, some software i dont yet understand.

      I would totally agree that visualization is key and it will allow for people to better communicate across bioregions, manage resources, make decisions and plan and organize. The key is breaking with linear narratives and organizing information, ideas, arguments and concepts in ways that make more sense to us.

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