Living off the land

Iowa's wildlife can supplement modern-day

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CEDAR RAPIDS – Foraging for food isn’t something most people think about often. For Rich Patterson, it’s second nature.

Patterson became intrigued with foraging for food at an early age and never lost interest. In fact, as director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, Patterson has led multiple programs about foraging.

“If you have knowledge of how to fun and process food, there’s a comfort in that,” Patterson says.

At a recent Indian Creek Nature Center program, Patterson combined foraging with eating to present a program about the Paleo diet.

The Paleo diet is an effort to eat like people used to long ago. Very long ago. Basically, if a caveman couldn’t eat it, people following the Paleo diet can’t eat it. Instead, anything that can be hunted or found in the wild is OK. This includes meats, fishes, nuts, leafy greens, regional vegetables and seeds.

“In all our time on earth, people have had one occupation: To find food,” Patterson says.

But as modern day advancements made producing food easier, humans spent last time searching for it. We advanced from being hunters and gatherers to food producers and, later, food consumers.

“In modern America, most people are very separated from their food,” Patterson says. “We would be in a world of hurt if the world ever shut down.”

Patterson’s presentation wasn’t in support of the Paleo diet or against it. Instead, he concentrated on how to identify, harvest, prepare and eat wild food common in the Eastern Iowa urban and rural areas. This includes maple syrup, acorns, dandelions, nettles, elderberries, violets, wild strawberries, milkweed, sweet clover, primrose, wild ginger and wild asparagus.

“The rule is, before you eat anything, you must be able to identify it three ways,” Patterson says.

He also recommends eating just a little the first time.

“It may be edible, but that doesn’t mean it will agree with you,” he says.

Another piece of advice was to eat plants early in their growth season, as most will toughen and taste bitter later in their growing season.

Patterson doesn’t follow the Paleo diet personally, but his family does eat off the land. Squirrel, wild turkey, deer, ducks and woodchuck are some of the meats his family consumes. They forage for food when they can and process acorns to make flour. They also have a garden and chickens.

Chris King, a senior at Coe College, isn’t at the time in his life where he can have a garden or raise backyard chickens, by he has followed the Paleo diet for about a year – or his version of it. King has found a template of foods he wants to eat that have a positive effect on his health. As such, he has cut all processed foods from his diet and consumes as much pasture-raised food as possible.

“The ancestral health that I follow is related to food quality and local foods; it gives people more options in their diet,” he says.

King says the changes in his diet have had multiple health benefits. He has a faster recovery time workouts, he’s gained lean muscle and is able to regulate his moods with foods that stabilize his blood sugar.

Opposed to genetically modified foods, King is researching different options for food preparation, focusing on how food can be ethically raised and consumed. This includes foods not commonly found on the Paleo diet, such as dairy products.

“I think there’s way to eat those if they’re properly prepared and not genetically modified,” he says.

King attended Patterson’s program to learn more about what he can forage in the area, with the understanding that the food in the wild is what pasture-raised animals consume, too.

“It’s reassuring to know you have options outside of the grocery store,” King says.

Patterson stressed that knowing what food is available in the wild can minimize trips to the grocery store, saving money at a time when everyone is looking to reduce costs.

“So much food goes to waste,” Patterson says. “It’s all around us and it’s rotting. It makes no sense to me.”


Acorn Muffins

--- 1 beaten egg

--- 1 cup milk

--- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

--- 1/2 cup molasses/honey mixed

--- 1 teaspoon vanilla

--- ¼ cup sugar

--- 1 2/3 cup flour

--- ½ cup acorn flour

--- 2 teaspoons baking powder

--- ½ teaspoon baking soda

Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately. Then mix them together until just moist. Batter will be lumpy.

Fill muffin liners or greased tin 2/3 full.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with butter and/or honey.

Source: Rich Patterson, director, Indian Creek Nature Center

Eggs in a Nest

For each nest:

--- 2 green onions

--- 1 egg

--- Olive oil

--- salt and pepper

--- 1/2 chopped tomato

Preheat oven to 350. Grease dish generously, add salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Cut the whites off the green onions, set the green tops aside. Chop the whites. Sauté the green tops and chopped whites in a small amount of oil or in a non-stick pan until wilted. Place the onions in a ramekin and make a hole in the center to form the nest. Break egg into the hole. If desired, add a little oil on top to keep the top of the egg from drying out. Place cup in a shallow baking pan filled 1/2 inch deep with water. Bake for 15 minutes or until top of egg is opaque and firm looking. Garnish with tomato and enjoy.



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