Chris Corrigan

Consulting in organizational and community development





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August 1, 2001

All over the island, like much of coastal BC, salal grows.   Salal is an evergreen shrub that grows in dry forests and along beaches.  It has shiny, leathery green leaves, and the deer love it as a browse.  And it produces lovely dark purple berries around this time of year which taste a little like gamySalal Berries blueberries.

Getting anyone to eat these berries is damn near impossible.  For some reason, a huge percentage of the population thinks that these berries are poisonous.  Others, who are perfectly happy to pick and consume huckleberries, salmon berries and the like will tell you that they have never had a salal berry, that they didnít even know that the plant fruited, or that if they had seen the fruits, it had never occurred to them to try eating one.

Itís amazing, because salal berries have to be the most commonly occurring wild berry in this whole region.  And to my palate they are very tasty, varying in sweetness and juiciness, but as addictive as a handful of huckleberries.  So now Iím on a mission to restore the salal berry to itís deserved place in the pantheon of wild foods.  Iíve been feeding them to any and all who will try them.

We have a lot of salal on the dry slope in front of the house, and last week I cleaned off all the berries there.  For the past few days I worked the patch behind the house on the edge of the forest where the berries were hanging in thick clumps, round, full and juicy.   After a few hours work I have about four cups.  Iíll keep collecting through October.

Most of the berries have gone into the freezer where they are being stored for an eventual batch of jam or jelly.  I have been snacking on them frozen and they seem to have an improved flavour that way, a little sweeter.  A few berries are being subjected to culinary experiments based on traditional indigenous technology.  One small batch has been crushed and put out to dry in the sun.  This is a traditional method of preserving the berries.  They are very high in pectin, so crushing them almost turns them to jam.  They dry into a kind of fruit leather in a few days,  My batch was about half done before it started to rain today, and now I have had to bring them in to dry inside.

The other batch are being turned into raisins to see what happens when they sit in the sun and become completely desiccated.

Yesterday as I was picking berries I was reflecting on a  radio interview I heard recently with Hugh Brody about his new book The Other Side of Eden.  In it he postulates that the worldís cultureHunter gatherers can be divided into two basic types: hunter/gatherers and farmers.  In essence, hunter/gatherer cultures tend to organize their societies with high degrees of respect for the individual and high tolerance for chaos and change.  Because they live off the land, and on the landís terms, they are highly adaptable and favour activities that lie in harmony wit their environment.

Predictably, farming cultures are the opposite.  They seek control as they try to tame the land and bend it to their will.  Most farmers grow crops that are not native to the land they are growing on, which means that they have to spend their time weeding, fencing and protecting their farm.  It is a very large investment of time and energy, and farming cuFarmerltures can be characterized by social systems that seek to control and order the world to keep chaos from messing with the incredible vulnerability that comes from being tied so completely to one thing.  These cultures also require more and more technology as well as land on which to live as the descendants of the farming families strike out to farm on their own.  And those that canít find farm land end up in cities.

Of course, the analogy will have itís limitations, as some writers have already pointed out, but it occurred to me that my hunter/gather instincts are showing themselves since I have moved over here.  I have always been interested in gardening, but more so in wild crafting and working with native plants and berry picking and so on.  I am keenly interested in foraging now.  Much more so than I am in growing non-native food species and working to protect them from weeds and deer. 

This attitude crops up in my professional life too, as I have compared myself to some of the other local business people on the island. Many of them are ďfarmersĒ in that they have created a business and essentially carved out territory and fenced it off.  When things go wrong, such as a souring of  relations  local government, then the business is threatened and people become aggressive in defending their ďfarms.Ē

I am more in the business of hunting and gathering.  If the climate changes I change with it.  If my clients no longer demand writing work, but want more facilitation I can do that.  Maybe I shift into doing more policy for a while, if that is what is needed.  Being able to move with the times, relying on the environment as it is at any given time, is a tremendous advantage and offers the security that comes from being free of an albatross.

As I thought about all this, my compulsion to pick berries became understandable.  Now if only I could get people to eat them, then I would have a market for Christmas presents of jelly.  Email me if you want some.



Chris Corrigan

RR #1 E-3, Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada V0N 1G0

Phone (604) 947-9236   Fax: (604) 947-9238