Wild Foods Outpost
March 19, 2019
The Food Initiative is establishing an outdoor learning space at the River and Field Campus for the study and production of wild foods, primitive technology, and ecological landscape design.
Spring break for some interns of the Food Initiative involved a bit of pioneering, creating a trail and campsite at the College’s River and Field Campus to mark the beginning of an outpost where students will immerse in the context of the land to explore the relationship between people, food, and wildlife. On the 15-acre site amid forest and shoreline along the Chester River, the interns cleared greenbrier and multiflora rose, mapped rainwater gullies and wind corridors, excavated artifacts from long-ago farm use, built a composting area and woodshed, and established a fire ring.
And cooking around the fire each evening, they began to envision what they hope will grow here.
“Fire is really the key for everything that’s going to happen at the outpost,” says Lanning Tyrrel ’22, an environmental science major. “There’s a reason we put a fire pit in before we did anything else. As the site becomes more developed, fire will not only provide us with cooked meals but create tools and pottery and help us to make our structure durable. I could see hosting courses in permaculture and blacksmithing using the smithy we anticipate establishing here.”
Biology and environmental science major Rose Adelizzi ’19 spearheaded the collaboration between the Student Environmental Alliance and Garden Club, which co-sponsored the camping expedition. “The future vision of the outpost is both education and research, so all students can get involved,” she says. “It’s a wonderful space here, just being surrounded by water, beavers by the shoreline, amphibian breeding habitats, and birds. It’s an amazing experience, all centered around making food meaningful.”
Campfire meals included sourdough pancakes, fried tortillas, and roasted vegetables. Firelight discussions extended long into the night.
“It was exciting to practice fire skills,” says Kelsey McNaul ’19, an environmental studies and sociology major. “You interact with what you’re cooking over a campfire to see how much longer it needs, or if you should add another log to the fire. It lets you use your instincts more than following a recipe. Those skills translate to cooking over a stove or in a kitchen.”
“I had the chance to connect to everyone out here with conversations exploring the stories and motivations behind our relationship with food,” says Adelizzi. “I enjoyed having the chance to cook over the fire and make stew and chili—I don’t know how much s’mores is eating like humans, but it’s fulfilling.”
Concepts for the outpost include foraging for edible plants and building structures from materials native to the site, incorporating techniques that “might range from homestead-style log cabin building to Iroquois longhouse construction,” Tyrrel says. “We’re going to work with the wild plants that are already here, and we’ll bring in various edible plants to build windbreaks that we could wake up and grab our breakfast from in the mornings.”
Permaculture ethics and principles will inform everything that happens here, McNaul says.
“We can introduce elements that enhance the ecosystem services of the space,” she says. “Everything we do takes nature into account. We’re not just creating structures similar to what we encounter in our daily lives, but that are appropriate for a long-term relationship with the land.”
Everything about the place invites visitors to step away from the hustle of contemporary life, turn off the cell phone, and reconnect with the natural world.
“Being so close to the grasslands there’s a feeling of openness. During the day you feel the warmth of the sun and at night you can see the moon and the stars,” McNaul says. “And I love the area by the water. There are some really cool trees that extend their roots over the beach. Seeing the sunset through the trees is really beautiful, and so is hearing the frogs and the different sounds of the animals and the birds that are here.”
Tyrrel sees the future of the outpost traced in the course of the river. “I would like to bring people in canoes and kayaks up the Chester to the site. Visitors could land on our nice sandy beach and stay for a few days to reconnect with what it means to be human.”
“This space will be a great example of how to live with the land,” Adelizzi says. “It’s inspiring to know that this space is dedicated to having humans reconnect with nature and serve as a model to the community.”