Get Wild With Food This Weekend
For more than 50 years, a West Virginia group has promoted the virtues of foraged food.
photo courtesy doug elliott
For 50 years, a group of foragers and wild food enthusiasts has been meeting just east of Parkersburg, West Virginia to celebrate the hidden bounty that awaits those who are willing to look for it. 96-year-old Parkersburg native Edelene Wood started what would become the Nature Wonder Wild Food Weekend in 1968 as a way to promote economic and cultural growth in the region. Every year on the third weekend of September, novice and advanced foragers from around the country gather to share knowledge and wild food with one another at North Bend State Park. This year’s theme is Forage to Fest.
As an employee of a regional electric company and equipped with her studies of advanced economic development while obtaining a masters at West Virginia University, Wood was inspired by her childhood in West Virginia and wild food expert and author of “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons. In 1968, she invited him to speak at North Bend State Park in hopes of drawing out an interest in the region’s history of survival by living off the land. She had been teaching classes on plant identification and had befriended Gibbons. “I persuaded my group to pay a 100 dollars to get him there. He gently worked in the idea that wild food was actually gourmet. It was like a miracle,” she says.
Wood, the long running president of the National Wild Foods Association remembers a time when eating wild food wasn’t met with enthusiasm. “More than 50 years ago, people were ashamed of eating wild food. They called it poor people’s food. No one ever talked about it but they had cellars full of canned stuff,” says Wood.
Wood had personal experience with the stigma that came with eating wild foods. Her parents had had to leave Parkersburg during the Great Depression and survive by hunting wild game and subsistence farming. Her father was a particularly good small game hunter, hunting squirrels and groundhogs. “I knew an Italian boy. They [the family] were more recent immigrants than us. This fellow, he said his mother sent he and his brother up on a hill to hunt any small animals and she would make cacciatore. It wasn’t something that was ever talked about,” she says.
Meeting and befriending Gibbons help solidify Wood’s thinking about wild foods and she’s proudly carried the tradition of the Nature Wonder Wild Food Weekend in his memory. She fondly recalls drinking his favorite dandelion root tea in celebration of his 100th birthday. “This weekend, it’s created acceptance about these food ways,” she says.
This year the 51st Nature Wonder Wild Food weekend will be in North Bend State Park from Friday September 21 to Sunday morning September 23. The keynote speaker is Doug Elliott, a naturalist, herbalist, backcountry guide and storyteller. Presentations, nature walks, hikes and collection and preparation of wild foods will run throughout the event. Instruction on wild food identification, cooking and wild drink making contests will also be held.