Let’s eat! An excited line of students walked to the community centre grounds from the Minto-Clifford Public School. Others were there to join them – a couple of parent farmers, not just as chaperones, but to offer their knowledge as well as to learn. What started as an outdoor information project for the Grade 3 class mushroomed into more sessions for adults and home-schooled children.
The outing was arranged with the school by Rodger Hyodo whose daughter Anjou is in that Grade 3 class. This was not the first “Walk” that Hyodo had facilitated. In the fall of 2013 after a series of meetings with the Upper Grand Board of Education, curriculum approval was given so that he and Anna Sienicka could lead a group of Fergus High School Students on a Walk through High Park (Toronto). The excursion was a huge success and set the precedent for more trips to follow. A similar jaunt with mainly Horticultural Society members was held in Harriston last summer.
This Grade 3 outing was arranged through the Principal of the Minto-Clifford Public School and relevant teacher(s). The school responded positively as soon as the idea was presented.
Anna Sienicka is a Wholistic practitioner in Toronto. She emigrated from Poland in 1996 and is the founder of Toronto’s Wholistic Care Centre. She offers public school lessons in wild and edible local plants, sustainability and biodiversity based on her children’s book entitled “Seeds and Weeds”.
Her dream is to help bring Canada’s already leading health care system on par with European care where doctors can refer a patient to Naturopath, Homeopath or Chinese Medicine so that the patient has other alternatives rather than just pharmaceutical prescriptions.
Anna is a graduate of the three year program from the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine as well as a B.A. from York University with specialized honors in Kinesiology and Health Science.
Sienicka had foraged since childhood in her native Poland so she was quite surprised when she came to Ontario to find that seeking wild greens wasn’t as common. She found people regarding her as peculiar when she was out hunting for food. But on this particular walk she had a captive audience in the Grade 3 kids. They too were probably skeptical when the teacher described what this new outdoor lesson was going to be about – but being able to have a class outside was enough to stimulate a true interest.
In terms simple enough for the students to understand Sienicka described and showed them some easily recognizable weeds, and they all did a taste test. They were surprised to find that yellow dandelion flowers are actually quite good. Anna pulled watercress from the river and told how it was far better than regular lettuce and is a superfood filled with vitamins and minerals. The same holds true for nettles. Shamrocks have a lemony flavor.
Anna Sienicka practices what she preaches. During a three month period last summer she did a bike tour. It was something she had wanted to do ever since she came to Canada so she started in British Columbia and biked across the Dominion. Cheering her on and being there for company were her eight year old son and her parents. Nearly every meal had some foraged greens either in salads or sandwiches. Following her 7200 km journey Sienicka penned a book “Wild Edible Plants of Canada (as seen on my cycling trip Across My Country”. Referring to her strenuous trip and subsequent book she says, “Canada is the proverbial fountain of youth when it comes to its diversity of plants. During my cycling trip (Summer 2015) many species were familiar, but it was especially exciting to discover and fit into my diet so many plants I’d only known of from books. This book contains over 50 species from 11 provinces. Some are unique and only found in a certain province, others are more common and can be found pretty much everywhere.”
All this information fascinated the children and they were eager participants as they walked through the forest and not only found, but learned to identify other edible greens such as leeks, purslane, lambs quarters, wild violet and burdock. A real treat was to find the huge pheasant back mushrooms.
The feedback from teachers and parents was extremely positive, even inspired. Comments ran from “that was fun” to “when can we do this again?” One parent said it was amazing what his daughter had come away with from that one experience of Anna’s Wild Edible Plant Walk. She came home with a new passion for the things of nature. Two local farmers who had been on the walk surprised Sienicka when they mentioned how some Ontario farmers have long learned that homeopathic remedies provide effective cures for several conditions that cattle suffer, and are helped with natural treatments like Acadian Kelp and fermented sugar beets.
Two days later another walk was held and quite a mixture was in attendance. Among them was Jess. She owns a massage therapy business in Guelph, had heard about the Wild Walk, and at the last
minute decided to cancel the appointment with her naturopath and drive to Harriston to do the exercise. Just as she was leaving home a friend texted her to ask if she could babysit her three year old daughter. Jess said “yes, if you can get her to me now, and if you don’t mind her attending a Wild Walk in Harriston!”
When pictures were posted on social media, Hyodo received a comment from a decades-old friend whom he hadn’t seen in very long time, “Hey Rodger, that’s my little girl”. Just proves that during the journey of life one should always be open to do or try the unexpected and non-traditional – you never know what the result will be.
Rodger Hyodo (Harriston resident and coordinator of the walks) believes that so much school curriculum is now out-dated. Why isn’t this generation learning about the 5,000 wild plant species here in Canada, 4,000 of which are a flowering kind, and how to identify edible super-foods that God and nature are growing? Already there are inquiries coming from Japan for Walks to be provided for schools there!
TVO airs a show Monday evenings called “Superfoods – the Real Story”. This program reiterates and confirms what Anna Sienicka tells her students.
So while eating weeds may not be on top of your nutritional “to do” list, it’s certainly worth the effort to try.