The Honourable Harvest: Guiding Principles to Restoring Our Relationship to the Natural World

Apr 12, 2021

We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Author, Environmental Educator, & Plant Ecologist

A town council meeting has been scheduled!

 

The mayor will be in attendance, along with the councillors, developers, and townsfolk. It has created quite the stir as there is to be a new development on the west side of town. Special guests have also been invited to this meeting…the plants, animals, trees and fungi who live in the proposed location (though they will be attending virtually…). It’s quite a deliberation, all opinions are considered, some things given, some things taken. In the end an agreement is reached which proves beneficial to all.

Imagine if every decision we make as a society included a consultation with nature? Imagine we lived in a society where we viewed the natural world as a person rather than a resource?

Magpie River in Quebec comes to mind. It has been granted legal rights as part of a global ‘personhood’ movement. In fact, countries such as New Zealand, India and Ecuador have governments that are in favour of protecting rivers, lakes, and forests, through granting them personhood.

If such an imagination were reality, then perhaps our relationship with the natural world would become symbiotic and even regenerative. This is the type of relationship that the Haudenosaunee and many other first nations communities have practiced for countless generations.

What is the honourable harvest?

The honourable harvest is a set of guidelines which we can use to improve our relationship with the land by viewing it as kin, rather than just a resource. This mentality is an aspect of the ‘7 Generations’ way of thinking, which emphasizes the need to think about how the actions of today will affect future generations to come. The honourable harvest can also play a role in helping us change our mindset about things like waste, energy consumption, and means of transportation. While these principles are often associated with the individual, they may also be applied to the decision-making processes of large businesses and in shaping government policy.

As outlined by Author Robin Wall-Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, “The guidelines for the honourable harvest are not written down, or even consistently spoken of as a whole – they are reinforced in small acts of daily life but if you were to list them, they might look something like this:”

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you,
so that you may take care of them.
Plants can be seen as food and medicine, from that perspective, they are the ones who take care of us. Through thoughtful observation and interaction, we can learn how they function, how they can be used, and how to ensure it remains ecologically stable.

A group of students getting ready to forage with their instructor

Adam Birchweaver leading an outdoor education workshop

 

Introduce yourself. Ask permission before taking.
Abide by the answer.
Be courteous, and respect plants and the environment as you would your own friend. Imagine walking into your friends house and eating all the food in their fridge without asking permission. It’s just rude!

Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Sometimes the first one you see might be the only one in the area. If you take the last one you see, maybe you just cleared out an entire area of a particular species. Overharvesting is a major problem for all kinds of plants and fungi (especially in heavily populated areas), if you take something, make sure it’s only what you need and can actually use.

 

Foragers examining their mushrooms

A big ‘flush’ of chanterelles and lobster mushrooms in late summer. Nature’s bounty!

 

Foraged mushrooms in a frying pan

Chanterelles make a wonderful stir fry, especially when cooked in butter and garlic.

Take only that which is given.
Sometimes it can be a little difficult to know when something is being given. But as we start to recognize growth cycles and patterns, then it becomes more clear when a plant is ripe for the taking. This is more clear when thinking of berries, but with other harvestables such as roots, maybe the best time to harvest is in the spring or fall, when all of the nutrients have retreated underground for the winter.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
I have several locations in mind for some of my favourite edible mushrooms (lobsters and chanterelles), but when I hunt for them I never take more than half from any given patch, and I always harvest them delicately, taking extra caution not to compromise the mycelium root fibers.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
When we harvest from our raspberry patch we always ensure that there are plenty left behind so that the birds get their fair share. One of the best parts of harvesting from the wild is sharing with friends and family!

 

A handful of foraged gooseberries

Ripe gooseberries are sweet and tangy, they make for a great snack.


Give thanks for what you have been given.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
An herbalist mentor of mine, Julie Walker suggested that we leave a strand of hair behind for every plant that we harvest from the wild (this might not be ideal for those of us who don’t have hair!). Offerings of tobacco are also common practice in many first nations communities.

Adam Birchweaver examining a leaf in nature

A moment of gratitude

 


References: 

  1. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. What is the Seventh Generation Principle? Indigenous Corporate Training Inc, 2020. Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples, https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/seventh-generation-principle#:~:text=The%20Seventh%20Generation%20Principle%20is,seven%20generations%20into%20the%20future.
  2. Lowrie, Morgan. “Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement.” CBC, 28 February 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/magpie-river-quebec-canada-personhood-1.5931067.
  3. Ramsden, Peter G. “Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).” Canadian Encylopedia, 2015, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/iroquois. Accessed 5 March 2021.
  4. Wall-Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed, 10/13/2020.
  5. Wall-Kimmerer, Robin. “The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks.” Yes Magazine, 26 November 2015, https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/good-health/2015/11/26/the-honorable-harvest-lessons-from-an-indigenous-tradition-of-giving-thanks/.
  6. Wall-Kimmerer, Robin. “Reclaiming the Honorable Harves.” Youtube, TEDx Talk, 12 August 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lz1vgfZ3etE. Accessed 05 March 2021.


Author:
Adam Birchweaver, Program Deliver Officer: Anglophone School Districts, The Gaia Project

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