When ethnoecologist Dr. Joyce Lecompte-Mastenbrook came to visit FMIA at Grand Ronde, she led a wonderful plant walk around the edges of the Molalla Encampment Site and showed us all the edible plants that surround the site. I had no idea that so many edible and medicinal plants were so close to where we had been working for weeks. During the plant walk she mentioned that the Molalla site was a permaculture Food Forest, which are permanent agriculturally managed places where people have access to food. I became really interested in the concept of Food Forests.
According to the Permaculture Institute, Food Forests are designed to meet the needs of the community as well as produce a habitat beneficial for wildlife and increased ecological resilience and diversity. The website discussed how Food Forests are not necessarily “natural” but are specifically designed and managed. One of the goals of permaculture is to regenerate degraded landscapes to their former health. An example of permaculture put into practice is the Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle, Washington. Their goals are similar to that of the Permaculture Institute in that they want to rehabilitate the local ecosystem while bringing the community together to grow their own food. The Beacon Hill Food Forest strives to follow permaculture methods while planning to plant for the needs of the diverse community. It also hopes to combine native plants with a mixture of other edible gardening plants.
Nisqually tribal member and Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Billy Frank Jr. also discusses the idea of Food Forests in his article Every Forest Once a Food Forest on Northwest Treaty Tribes. He discusses that for indigenous people, “all of Western Washington was once a food forest.” He also writes about how projects like the Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle are important because they are trying to repair the landscape from a condition that doesn’t allow for natural food forests and first foods to thrive. He hopes these projects include plants that have long been used by indigenous communities.
The Molalla Encampment Site is similar to what Billy Frank Jr. describes. While it is a public place that is frequently used by campers attending Grand Ronde powwows, it is in a fairly natural area and produces a large variety of co-existing edible plants that need minimal management. With its meadow-like managed state, the site also provides a productive environment for plants and animals (Joyce Lecompte-Mastenbrook). Molalla also includes Indigenous plants as well as introduced plants. For example, the site has Indigenous plants like trailing blackberries, service berries, and native crab apples but also has introduced Himalayan blackberries and pear trees. It’s interesting to think about how long these plants have been growing around Molalla and who might have planted and used them in the past.
Working on the topic of edible and medicinal plants at the Molalla encampment showed me that every forest can be a Food Forest if you know what you’re looking for and how to use it. It has made me think even more about how resources are everywhere and occur naturally. I definitely will keep this in mind when looking at landscapes in the future.
Check out some of the edible/medicinal plants at the Molalla Encampment in the video below:
Beacon Food Forest
N.d. Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project. Beacon Food Forest. Beaconfoodforest.org, accessed July 19, 2016.
Frank, Billy Jr
2016 Every Forest Once a Food Forest. Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone. Nwtreatytribes.org/every-forest-once-a-food-forest/, accessed July 19, 2016.
2016 Molalla Encampment Site Plant Walk. Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology Field School.
N.d. Permaculture Resources. Permaculture Institute. www.permaculture.org/resources, accessed July 19, 2016.