Aprovecho’s Ethnoecology and Agricultural Traditions Project
The goal of this project is to further the understanding of the role native plants and their traditional land management patterns have both in the process of restoration and in the human diet. The project involves a collaboration between Aprovecho, local high schools, the University of Oregon, federal agencies, and Oregon tribes.
The Nature Conservancy determined in 2006 that the Willamette Valley ecological region is the most endangered area in western North America. Of greatest concern are the oak prairies that once covered over 80% of the Willamette Valley.
While there has been much research into ecological restoration in general, very little emphasis has been placed on the role of humans in the landscape. A growing body of research is lending support to the premise that there is no static ecological system and that true restoration involves deep and consistent human interactions with land. From the Washingtonia palms of Joshua tree to the oak prairies of western Oregon, cultural practices of burning, root division, coppicing, pruning, and seed and plant dispersal were employed to maintain the integrity of agricultural ecosystems. In short, restoration involves both the restoration of land and the restoration of the human relationship with land.
This project seeks to utilize traditional land management practices to both restore and maintain native landscapes without the use of herbicides. Our goal will be to achieve a yield of food, medicine, plant stock, and fiber as a product of this restoration. The hypothesis is that intensive, traditional yet economically based human cultivation can restore native ecosystems to a greater degree of vitality than their uncultivated counterparts. The restoration will be undertaken in the context of creating educational opportunities for youth in the form of employment throughout the restoration process and in ongoing workshops and class visitations at the restoration sites.
Amongst growing concern over the epidemic of diabetes and obesity in American culture it is important to look to indigenous and traditional models of food production as references for understanding a balanced nutrition. Currently, up to 90% of some Native American tribes have these diet related diseases. This is in large part due to the modern lack of access to traditional native foods. These foods, which exist in all the wild corners of the Northwest, have co-existed with Native American cultivation for thousands of years. In sharp contrast to the grain based diets of Europe, this diet consisted primarily of bulbs, nuts, berries, and grass-fed meats. It is known that most indigenous food crops have a lower glycemic index and a healthier fat profile than many of the foods available in the modern industrial agriculture system.
Many of the native plant communities of Western Oregon are parts of remnant orchards and gardens that produced abundant food through careful management by native tribes. These plant foods represent significant opportunities to meet our food needs locally and sustainably, as they are adapted to the wet winters and dry summers of the Pacific Northwest and require little additional inputs or detrimental soil disturbance.
Using the crops derived through the restoration process, the EAT program will prepare recipes for and test the food crops for their nutritional content. The results of these findings will be published and used as educational materials. The EAT program will also seek to integrate local tribes, and school groups into the production, harvest, and processing of these crops, as well as the dissemination of any research. The EAT program is also interested in the production of non-native food and other crops, and seeks to find ways that the most productive, multifunctional, and high-yielding crops can be grown in an overarching investigation into sustainable food production systems for the future.