In the previous post, I shared a bit about Tama Matsuoka Wong, author of Foraged Flavor, who harvests plants others call “weeds” for use in a high-end restaurant. She runs Meadows + More, and she also brought parties together to facilitate the creation of a Floristic Quality Assessment Index for New Jersey.
Today I want to share some of her thoughts about our theme of trust and environmental practice. Tama Matsuoka Wong and I discussed three areas of her work where trust is a key factor: building relationships of trust with those with whom she works, trusting the rhythm of the seasons, and the importance of being trustworthy as a steward of the natural environment.
First, Matsuoka Wong attempts to ensure that these relationships are built on trust and reciprocity, so that she does not only take, but she gives something in return. She actively creates a network of relationships that make her work more effective, from the chef she works with to landowners where she gathers edible weeds, from land managers to local naturalists and conservationists. She often builds these relationships by inviting those with information she wants to learn to join her for a meal. This hospitality provides the space for information sharing and friendship. She always makes sure to ask permission before foraging on a piece of land. She follows all laws, and forages only where she knows the treatment of the plants, never picking plants treated with pesticides or in danger of contamination by other toxic substances. In return for taking plants from the properties of her friends, neighbors, local farms, and other locations, she gives back to them through shared meals, free educational sessions, helping them create management plans, and ecosystem restoration advise. Through these relationships, she builds bridges of trust between herself and disparate members of the community, all of whom are stakeholders in the process of creating a healthy, sustainable, and manageable environment.
The second way Tama Matsuoka Wong notes trust entering her environmental practice is through the rhythm of the seasons. She says she especially notes this sense of trust when waiting for the spring, “when the first shoots come out of the ground. I am more and more amazed the older I get about the rebirth of green from the barren ground. Every time we foragers see these signs of life, we trusted that they would return and at the same time are excited to see them emerge.” This tension between trust and hope, waiting and expectation, trusting the rhythm that produces life on the planet and gratefulness when our trust is fulfilled in the production of new life-giving plants, is a thread that holds together her philosophy of environmental practice. She trusts the microcosm of her yard and property, expressing a sense of peace, deep belonging, and health when spending time on this trusted landscape.
Tama Matsuoka Wong then turned her attention to the ways in which we as Americans perhaps trust too much—ways in which we would do better to be worthy of trust rather than blindly trusting. For many of us, we go about our daily life not noticing the natural world very much. We trust that the natural world will continue as it has, cycling through the seasons, producing food, purifying our air and water, and providing us with the resources we need for our homes, cars, and gadgets. Matsuoka Wong notes that many people trust the macro processes of the natural world, while distrusting nature at a micro-level: keeping dirt and insects at bay, distrusting wild animals and unknown plants, and creating built environments that control “nature” as much as possible. She gently reminds that we are part of nature, and it is all these micro-level organisms and processes that make the macro-level global systems continue to function.
Instead of placing our blind trust in the ability of the natural world to repair itself, Matsuoka Wong brings up the concept of becoming trustworthy stewards of the environment. We begin to develop a relationship of trust with the land when we take on a sense of responsibility for the care of that land. Just like she does with her human network of relationships, Matsuoka Wong builds a relationship of trust with the land based on reciprocity and friendship. She spends time with the land, gets to know it, and seeks ways she can give back to the land at least as much as she takes from it. She trusts the land and its inhabitants at the micro-level, caring for the space under her influence, and learning to manage it in the ways it needs, rather than simply in the ways she wants. At the same time, she does not currently trust the continued functioning of natural systems at a macro-level unless more people begin to build similar relationships of responsibility, mutual trust, and reciprocity with the land at the micro-level.
I hope this post inspires you as much as it does me, and that we all feel encouraged in our work, seemingly small and insignificant as it may be. As we build relationships with these small pieces of our planet, we grow our global community toward health, reciprocity, and trust in the sustenance of the continued cycle of the seasons.