Thanksgiving – We are All Connected

On Thanksgiving step outside and share your gratitude.

This Thanksgiving I am mindful that people are part of nature not separate from it. Everything on Earth is worthy of our reverence and gratitude.

A few weeks ago, after an inspirational morning at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in California, I knew that I wanted to write about the interconnectedness of nature (yes that includes people) for my Thanksgiving post this year.

It all began with a bowl of oatmeal.

But, before we get to the oatmeal, a bit of background may be useful.

My home is on the California Central Coast in the midst of one of the few remaining swaths of Monterey pine forest. Before we bought our home, the mostly wild yard had been untended for years so invasive plants had been encroaching unimpeded and some plants that had been purposefully planted had gotten out of control. Somehow, I got the possibly ridiculous and crazy idea in my head that we could restore our tiny piece of land and then it could encourage the neighboring land to go native.

With limited knowledge, a shovel and some clippers I set about removing the few invasive plants that I could identify. The flip side of invasive plants is native plants, which I am trying to learn about so we can encourage natives growing in our yard and plant others.

So, when I read about an upcoming event called the Chumash Kitchen at the botanical garden, I signed up my spouse and me. We were excited to have an opportunity to learn about native plants from two Chumash women (Jeanette and Violet) who are descendants of the people who have been living on the California Central Coast for thousands of years and we were looking forward to tasting some dishes made from locally foraged and harvested foods.

The Chumash Kitchen

The day was warm with just a slight chill and the skies were cloudy and gray.

We arrived just in time for breakfast. I was somewhat dismayed to find that breakfast was oatmeal (I think it had ground acorns, too) because I seriously dislike oatmeal and have since I was a little kid. Not to be deterred from fully participating, I ladled a small portion into my bowl and topped it with several heaping spoonfuls of cut up local apple pieces. I was thankful to see there was coffee and poured myself a mug.

Group Photo Beneath Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA
Group Photo Beneath an Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After breakfast, the group headed out for a hike up to a sacred Chumash site. Along the way, one of the young participants introduced us to an oak tree that she and others had gathered acorns under two days before. At a magnificent and ancient oak tree, we stopped to admire its beauty and sense of history and to pose for a group photo.

Sacred Grinding Stones

A short uphill hike brought us to a small open area with huge boulders embedded in the ground. Scattered across the boulders were round indentations that had been created by the Chumash people who had been grinding acorns here for thousands of years. This is a sacred site for the Chumash people who live here now and we were asked not to take photos of the stones.

By now, we were all warmed up and feeling fortunate that the cloudy sky was keeping the sun from beating down on our heads.

Jeanette began speaking of thankfulness and history and telling stories in a quiet and melodious voice. I remember her looking up at the cloudy sky, smiling, and saying, “The Mother is smiling on us this morning.” or something very close to that. What a delightful way of expressing gratitude for clouds.

View Looking Away from Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA
View Looking Away from the Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

While Jeanette was speaking, Violet circumnavigated the group carrying a smoldering bunch of white sage. She paused at each person and using her hand wafted the smoke over us. This simple act seemed to connect us all even though many of us did not know each other. I came away with the understanding that white sage is honored for its healing qualities and is used for blessing people.

Before making our way back down the hill, we were each given the opportunity to make an offering by placing a small pinch of tobacco leaves into one of the grinding holes and saying a prayer (out loud if we wanted to). My prayer (said silently) was that my children and everyone else’s children would have a habitable planet to live on in years to come.

Oak Trees and Acorns

Back at the garden event center, while Violet and a small contingent of volunteers were preparing lunch in the kitchen, we learned about the history of oak trees over thousands of years and Jeanette entertained us with stories.

Acorns were and still are an important food for Chumash people. We learned from Jeanette that some acorns are always left under the oak trees for those who do not speak. She referred to people, plants, trees, and animals as her kin. Hearing her speak with such respect and reverence for every living thing struck a chord in me. It feels right.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden Volunteers Preparing Acorns
Volunteers of All Ages Preparing Acorns for the Meals to be Served at the Chumash Kitchen Event – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
A Locally Foraged and Harvested Lunch

Before the lunch meal was served, Violet described the locally foraged and harvested ingredients and how they were prepared. I admit that once the mouth-watering plate of food was placed in front of me, I could not remember everything that had gone into making it.

I do remember a few things like the silky feel of the acorn gravy that had been ladled over a stuffed and roasted acorn squash. The Manzanita vinaigrette was tart and fragrant. Who knew you could make salad dressing from a Manzanita plant? The sautéed greens looking suspiciously like kale were tasty with a sort of acidic twang. I think ancient Chumash people probably did not have ice cream, but it was delicious melting on top of an apple crumble made with local apples and garnished with acorn dust.

The gathering ended with a traveling song. Feeling replete and uplifted we headed home.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

The reverence and gratitude that Violet and Jeanette had expressed for, well, everything stayed with me. So did the way they had spoken of the non-human members of nature as their kin and neighbors.

I frequently talk to trees, houseplants, and the variety of animals wandering and flying through our yard. However, I do not think I was conversing with them as peers, neighbors, or potential allies.

During the week following the event, I knew that something had shifted in my relationship with nature when I found myself apologizing to the ice plant that I was removing from my yard because it was choking out everything else. Another day, when a big buck deer wandered into the yard while I was working, I politely asked him if he would come back later. As he sauntered away, I could almost hear him thinking, “I was just passing through anyway.” When I noticed that somebody was living beneath and chewing on the roots of our lion’s tail plant, I suggested to the unseen neighbor that we try to work things out (the jury is still out on that one).

Although I do not fully understand how the diversity of life on Earth makes Earth, well, Earth, I do believe that everything connects somehow. People do not have dominion over nature we are part of it.

This year, I propose that we enlarge our gratitude circle beyond the family and friends gathered around our Thanksgiving tables to the whole of nature.

On Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to step outside for a few minutes or a long time and give thanks to a tree, a bird, a spider, a flower, a lake, a plant, or a mountain. How do you give thanks to a tree? It is up to you. Perhaps with a gentle hug, a prayer, a gift of water, listening, or just saying thank you. You get the idea.

“I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.” – David Suzuki

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Give Thanks in Block Letters with Fall Leaves, Acorns, and Pine Cones – Photo Credit iStock/jenifoto

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5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market

First Time Farmers Market Shoppers You are in for a Treat.

Shopping at the farmers market is an environmentally friendly and fun way to buy fresh and delicious food. It is worth your time and money.

August is an ideal time to try shopping at your local farmers market. At this time of year, you are sure to find a good selection of delectable freshly picked fruits and vegetables that are in season where you live and all of the 8,600 plus farmers markets spread across the country are open, even those that close during cold and snowy months.

Perhaps you are thinking that you would love to be able to buy a vine-ripened tomato that actually tastes like a tomato but you are concerned that shopping at the farmers market will be too time-consuming and/or expensive.

In this post, I will attempt to convince you that it is worth your time and money to expand your food shopping horizons to include shopping at the farmers market.

Your Body Will Thank You

Intellectually, you and I know we need to eat fresh and nutritious food to stay healthy and help our bodies heal when we get sick or injured. Sadly, today’s food landscape makes it challenging to eat a healthy diet.

A major barrier to healthy eating is that humans have a predisposition to crave sugar, fat, and salt, which were rare in the diets of our early ancestors but are now available everywhere 24 hours a day.

Fortunately, for you and me, fresh fruits and vegetables are front and center at the farmers market making it easy to choose healthy food without the distractions found in a typical supermarket like huge pyramids of boxed soft drinks, aisles crammed with overly processed and junk foods, and the dreaded candy shelves at the checkout counter.

Empower yourself to eat a healthy diet by shopping at the farmers market.

Freshly Picked Produce Stays Fresh Longer

At the farmers market, you can buy the freshest fruits and vegetables available (outside of your own garden); sometimes harvested the same day you buy them. This means produce will stay fresher once you bring it home and properly store it, which reduces food waste and saves you money.

For example, if you purchase a bunch of freshly picked basil at the farmers market it will stay fresh in your refrigerator for a week or more and it may actually cost less than at the supermarket.

The basil you purchase at the supermarket has already been on the road for several days to a week, endured multiple handling sessions, and hung out in the produce section for an unknown number of days by the time you come along and purchase it. No wonder store bought basil often starts wilting and turning brown around the edges after just a few days in your refrigerator.

Think about this. In the past week, what food did you toss because it was past its prime or spoiled? When you chuck uneaten food into the garbage, you are wasting all the resources and people power that went into growing and harvesting it and throwing your money in the trash.

Buy Fruits and Vegetables Grown for Deliciousness versus Durability

From a fruit and vegetable deliciousness standpoint, supermarkets just cannot compete with the farmers market.

Fresh Ripe Peaches from the Farmers Market
Fresh Ripe Peaches from the Farmers Market

Farmers who sell directly to customers can focus their energy on growing delicious fruits and vegetables, whereas a supermarket must also be concerned with durability.

Supermarkets require fruits and vegetables that can withstand mechanized harvesting, shipping by the ton, grading for size and appearance, boxing and crating, and traveling long distances. Unfortunately, many durable produce items are not tasty.

A few immediately come to mind like tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. You can probably think of others.

When I was a kid, we ate freshly picked delicious peaches all through the summer from a few peach trees my dad had planted in our backyard so I know what a fresh peach should taste like.

As an adult, after years of buying peaches at the supermarket that were usually mealy, bruised, tasteless, or all of the above, I finally decided to quit buying peaches and wasting my money.

Then one day a few years ago, I discovered a stall at the farmers market selling baseball-sized peaches that were juicy, tangy, and sweet and tasted like a peach should taste. Now, I buy peaches from the farmers market when they are in season.

Granted these peaches do cost more per pound than peaches at the supermarket but there is no comparison in freshness and taste. Do you ever splurge on lattes, specialty juices, or ice cream treats? Why not splurge on peaches.

Savor Locally Produced Food Products

In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, many farmers markets also sell eggs, cheese, meat, bread, olive oil, nuts, and prepared foods made by local people often using ingredients they grew themselves.

Snack foods sold at the farmers market are not highly processed junk foods made to last indefinitely on store shelves. If you purchase a bag of tortilla chips or a package of candied almonds, chances are you will be able to recognize all the ingredients on the label.

Trying food products from the farmers market is fun, tasty, and helps support your local economy, not some faceless corporation.

Support Sustainable Agriculture

When you shop at the farmers market, you have an opportunity to actually meet and talk with the people who grew the food you are buying.

These farmers live and work in your community or region and they have a vested interest in practicing sustainable agriculture. They often grow a variety of seasonal crops suitable for the climate in which they farm, which is good for maintaining healthy soil and keeping pests down. Many of the farmers grow and sell USDA certified organic fruits and vegetables meaning they are grown without pesticides or herbicides and are GMO-free.

Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market
Fresh Ripe Organic Strawberries from the Farmers Market

Food at the farmers market travels short distances reducing fossil fuel use and air pollution. Also, since it does not have to survive the supermarket durable food process, the food sold at farmers markets saves on water, energy, and resources.

When you shop at the farmers market, you are supporting local farmers so they can make a living and be good stewards of their land.

I hope that at least one of the above reasons for shopping at the farmers market appeals to you and you are ready to give it a try.

Tips for First Time Farmers Market Shoppers

You may already know when and where there is a farmers market near you. If not, type “farmers market” and the name of your “city” into your web browser.

Getting ready for your first trip to the farmers market is easy.

  • Grab your reusable shopping bags.
  • Make sure you have some cash (small bills are usually appreciated).
  • Bring your adventurous spirit along.

Imagine yourself strolling through the farmers market carrying your reusable shopping bags chock full of freshly picked and delicious fruits and vegetables, a loaf of freshly baked bread, and a jar of homemade spaghetti sauce. Now, off you go.

National Farmers Market Week is August 6-12, 2017 so some markets may be having special events or promotions making your first farmers market visit, even more, fun and interesting.

Featured Image at Top: National Farmers Market Week 2017 Logo – Image by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

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