At Red Spruce Grove, we talk about ethical foraging and what it means to live in a positive relationship with the land. Going beyond the idea of “Leave No Trace,” we strive to interact with the more-than-human world in a reciprocal way. Ethical wild harvesting guidelines encourage species diversity and plant regeneration and also instill the idea of stewardship in campers as they create a relationship with nature. Wild harvesting is a relationship between a person and a plant, flower, or tree. Campers at RSG experience this relationship firsthand.

Campers harvest materials from nature every day, whether it’s firewood, blueberries, bark and roots for basketry, or wild herbs for tea. On one of the final days of last summer, we harvested St. John’s Wort flowers from the wildflower meadow below the A-Frame shelter in order to make a medicinal infusion. (St. John’s Wort has been used traditionally to uplift spirits during times of transition, which campers all agreed they needed during the last days of camp!) While harvesting the yellow flowers, we talked about how flowering tops are key to the pollination and regeneration of the plant. Wanting to conserve St. John’s Wort in our meadow, we took no more than 1/3 of the flowers on every plant, on no more than 1/3 of the plants in each patch. We also thanked the plants, silently and aloud, for allowing us to harvest them!

Similarly, when harvesting wild blueberries, we think of all the animals we share the meadow with – bear, raccoon, fox, moose – and make sure we leave plenty of berries for them too. And when we felled a fir sapling to harvest bark for baskets, we found a tree in a close-growing stand of firs that were already competing for resources. Knowing this small sapling wouldn’t make it eventually, we chose to fell it, giving space to the other firs to grow and expand.

Through these daily interactions, campers leave RSG with an understanding of how closely our lives are linked with the natural world, and how to have a positive impact rather than a destructive one. We encounter nature in an intimate way every day, as we sleep on the earth, tell time by the sun, listen to birdsong, and harvest firewood. One of our often-song graces from last summer says it all:

“And on this land, I call my home, through these hills where I roam, I hear a voice deep in my bones: I ain’t-a stranger no more.”

Like it? Share it!