9 March 2017

 Foraging: Working with Nature



Ever considered eating and cooking with wild plants? That is what students at the Gozo College Middle School have been doing lately. With the support of funding from the EU project We Eat Responsibly and a grant from the WasteServ Community Link Project which the EkoSkola/LEAF committee managed to obtain, this project took shape. The aim was actually straight forward: become more responsible food consumers, using natural resources, reducing organic waste and off course outdoor learning.

As base work, students made research and speakers made presentations about the benefits and uses of wild plants and trees to the students. Mr John Michael Mizzi managed to clarify misconceptions and hint about a lot of possible actions that one can take to make good use of the rich biodiversity on the Maltese islands. A hunt for these plants was next on the list. Foraging was a first experience for most of the students involved. Even the word was new to many. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘foraging’ as ‘the search for food’. Actually it is more then that...

One of Gozo’s beautiful valleys provided the perfect location. It was just a couple of days after the rain. The students not only enjoyed the outdoors but learned to appreciate the wise actions of our ancestors – living a simple life and making good use of nature’s free gift of food. Mr Stephen Mifsud, ecologist and botanical consultant at Eco-Gozo led the way and helped students identify and pick nettle, borage, fennel and sea beet leaves. Wild plants have nutritional, medical and environmental value. Plant identifiction was the first step, followed by the correct picking of the leaves and flowers. One needs to be respectful of the environment and other possible users, taking care not to pick any rare or protected plants, not destroying the plant leaves and flowers are picked from and also keeping in mind that animals and birds also look for food in the same way. One also needs to be aware of the right time to go. With Malta’s climate, a rainy season is the ideal time to forage. Last but certainly not least, choose the location wisely avoiding any possible pollutants, avoiding areas close to busy roads, and pollution resulting by the spraying of chemicals by farmers or possible sewage overflow.

Following the foraging event, the students had a new task planned – cooking! That is, they pulled up their sleeves and put on their aprons to prepare local traditional dishes including nettle soup, and focaccia, gozitan ftira with fresh cheese and cake using the foraged leaves. One had actually to be really lucky to be able to taste the results because the students took care not to leave a crumb around, both because everything was simply delicious and they took care of the cleaning too!

Getting into contact with nature is not easy in today’s world, especially for young persons who tend to not know otherwise then digital gaming and social media. Many long standing traditions are being lost because of complicated lifestyles and busy schedules. The list of wants tends to be on the increase, producers exploit the environment to satisfy demands and make larger profits and this results in longer working hours for adults and less quality time within the families. Gone are the days where children are seen running happily in the streets and in the fields breathing in fresh air. A walk in the countryside has become a rarity for many, whilst people look in awe at beautiful landscapes abroad without being aware of the special gems just a few minutes walk or drive away. Opportunities such as the one these students had should inspire all to work hard to preserve nature’s bounty and to revive these old traditions that have been around for centuries but that are being slowly lost. As Mahatma Gandhi used to say “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”. Meanwhile, there are so many people suffering hunger in today’s world.

Elenia Jo Xiberras
Year 8 Blue

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