Plants for People – bringing traditional ecological knowledge to restoration

Herbert Farm and Natural Area, a City of Corvallis property which lies at the confluence of Marys River and Muddy Creek south of Corvallis, was historically an important food gathering area for the Kalapuya people. Much of those tribal connections to the area have been lost and natural habitats degraded through conversion to agriculture.
The “Plants for People” project, which is funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, aims to redress some of the imbalance. The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR) and restoration partners have teamed up to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge and culturally important plant species into restoration. The project has also established a new tribal plant materials program at CTGR.
On November 10, 2016, CTGR and IAE were joined by a team of young people from AmeriCorps NCCC to plant thousands of culturally important plants at Herbert Farm. This year was the first harvest of large camas (Camassia leichtlinii) and Gardner’s yampah (Perideridia gairdneri) from the raised beds at Grand Ronde, and 200 plants of each species were brought to Herbert Farm for the event. An additional 16,000 other native plants were purchased from Sevenoaks Native Nursery.

One of the huge camas bulbs from the raised beds that were planted at Herbert Farm & Natural Area

One of the huge camas bulbs from the raised beds that were planted at Herbert Farm & Natural Area

The day kicked off with project leaders explaining the significance of the “Plants for People” project followed by a traditional song by Jordan Mercier and Brian Krehbiel of the Cultural Resources Department of CTGR.

Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde staff with camas and yampah

Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde staff with camas and yampah

AmeriCorps NCCC Team Gold 5 members holding bundles of Oregon iris (Iris tenax).  Bulbs and bareroot plants of several other native species were also planted.

AmeriCorps NCCC Team Gold 5 members holding bundles of Oregon iris (Iris tenax). Bulbs and bareroot plants of several other native species were also planted.

“There are very few places we can go to gather camas,” explained Jordan Mercier. “One day, it will be great to be able to come here and harvest bulbs.” Karissa Red Bear, a Gold 5 team member, was interested in how the camas was identified in the field and when harvest occurred for food preparation. Jordan explained that camas was cooked for two to three days in an earthen oven and then pressed into cakes to be eaten in the winter. “The yampah can be eaten raw like a carrot,” said Jeremy Ojua, Silviculture Technician from Natural Resources Division, who has been rearing the plants in a raised bed at Grand Ronde. “But we also ground the yampah into a type of flour,” added Jordan.

Peter Moore (IAE), Jordan Mercier and Jeremy Ojua (CTGR) talking about the yampah

Peter Moore (IAE), Jordan Mercier and Jeremy Ojua (CTGR) talking about the yampah

Soon after the blessing song, we got our hands dirty and got planting. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience.

The CTGR team planting camas

The CTGR team planting camas

Luke Soderberg and Richard Nelson planting camas

Luke Soderberg and Richard Nelson planting camas

Karissa Red Bear, AmeriCorps team member, planting iris at Herbert Farm.

Karissa Red Bear, AmeriCorps team member, planting iris at Herbert Farm.

Logan Kneeland planting camas

Logan Kneeland planting camas

Jessie Brothers, IAE’s Education Coordinator was delighted to participate in the planting. “To see so many people with diverse backgrounds come together to dedicate their time and energy towards something much larger than themselves was a powerful experience.” She expressed that opportunities such as these will continue to be so important now and for the future of our communities. “We must look beyond our self to better understand the potentials for community involvement, compassionate understanding, and conservation progress.”
There were many positive comments and reflections from the AmeriCorps Gold 5 team as well. Harris Holland agreed with her fellow teammates that this “was a cool project to be part of.”
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