Interview with Patty West

Things are looking up for Patty West. She loves wild foods, wants to celebrate them, be respectful of them, and to get the communities who want to become more involved with them together. Patty is committed to helping with this and says, “We want to have a way to buy it, produce it, pick it from our backyards, and bring it to the community.”

Patty calls herself a free-range botanist. She remembers her grandfather, a farmer, taking her out into the woods in upstate New York to harvest wild foods. Her love of plants continued from there. When I asked her why people should be eating wild foods, she said she doesn’t necessarily think they should unless they want to. “For me it’s like a sacrament…I think people can benefit from it, but I don’t think everyone should do it if they don’t want to. Some people don’t like the taste of different things and that’s ok.”

I asked Patty about global climate change. She says, “In our state climate change is a big issue, but for us it’s gonna be more immediate because we don’t have any farmers because all the places that were good to farm are built up. Climate change is happening fast, but not that fast. Basically all the places that grow food are being bulldozed.” Click here to visit the American Farmland Trust. This website has online maps which show all the areas that would be good to farm, alongside those showing areas which are also in areas good for development. Securing these hot zones for food security are part of American Farmland Trust’s work.

Pictured are some of Patty’s dried wild foods. In the center is mesquite flour, clockwise from the wild greens in the front are dried prickly pear cactus fruit skins (good for making tea), yarrow, wild rose petals and dried saguaro fruits. I asked Patty how she felt about cultivating wild foods. She says, “I think it’s necessary in some cases because if you collect everything that grows wild, you’re going to decimate the populations. Lots of plants grow in the moisture runoff from the roads. If we could create these disturbed soil conditions with just a slight amount of moisture, we could grow these foods out away from the toxins in the road runoff.”

There are lots of wild food plant activities going on in Arizona. Here are just a few, which you might want to check out. Click here to visit Happy Oasis’ website. She is the founder of the Raw Spirit Festival in Sedona, and has organized people to offer wild food plant hikes during that Festival in October. She also leads wild food plant hikes from her retreat center in Prescott, AZ. Click here to visit Feather Jones’ website. She offers regular guided hikes, focusing on wild edibles and medicinal plants, through the famous Sedona vortexes. Click here to visit Native Seeds/SEARCH, an organization working to protect Native American traditional crops. Wild food crops such as cholla cactus buds, saguaro fruit, prickly pear pads and fruit, mesquite flour, desert chia and tepary beans are even available for purchase on their site. And finally, Click here to visit the Reevis Mountain School, which teaches regular wild food plant classes.

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