Walk This Way: Wild Food Wanders with Wolfgang Rougle

Local farmer, author and wild food advocate Wolfgang Rougle will join up with Slow Food Shasta Cascade to offer two upcoming walks open to the public in Chico’s Lower Bidwell Park in the coming weeks.
PHOTO: Delicious and nutrient-rich miner’s lettuce (above) and winter chickweed (below) – “weeds” coming up in parks and gardens right now and ready to eat! Wolfgang will help you to identify these and more on her upcoming Wild Food Wanders.

PHOTOS above and below: Both the blossoms and the young pea pods of Western red bud are edible.

Wolfgang is an encyclopedia of knowledge about wild foods in the Sacramento Valley, including their historical uses by early settlers and indigenous peoples. The walks are sure to delight and inspire and is free. Space is limited, so please RSVP at slowfoodshastacascade@yahoo.com by February 21st and February 28th respectively. And, bring your camera!

Wild Food Wanders are scheduled for Saturday, February 22nd, 1 pm until 3 pm and Saturday March 1st, 3pm – 4 pm.

Wolfgang Rougle is both a local organic farmer and the author of Sacramento Valley Feast: “How to Find, Harvest, and Cook Local Wild Food All Year Long”. Her book will be available for sale at the hike (at a 20% discount from the shelf price) and is always available at Lyon Books (Chico) and at Enjoy the Store (Red Bluff and Redding). For those who prefer to shop online, Lyon Books ships anywhere: search for Wolfgang’s book at www.lyonbooks.com. Walks will meet at Caper Acres Playground, Lower Bidwell Park Chico, CA 95928

For more information on Wolfgang, please enjoy the following profile.

Wolfgang Rougle is a young woman with a sharp mind, an engaged spirit, a strong work ethic and a big vision. She is also the owner and market-farmer of 20+ acres west of Cottonwood, named Springfed Organic Farm & Nursery, which she describes as: “a small farm located in the foothills of the Coast Range in the northern Sacramento Valley, at about 700 feet, in a sea of blue oak savannah.” Photo: A fleeting glimpse of Wolfgang Rougle, hard at work on her farm west of Cottonwood.

A community activist for good locally grown food, and sustainable small farms, Wolfgang is also an eloquent writer and has authored a small book/manifesto entitled “Sacramento Valley Feast: How to find, harvest and cook local, wild food… All Year Long!” as well as being a regular contributor to edible Shasta Butte.

Wolfgang, her farm and her writings all flow from her stated philosophy: “We are determined for small, innovative farmers to succeed and for all people to have access to delicious local food all year round!…Farms are ecosystems, not factories!” As such, Wolfgang believes farms/farmers must work with and protect their natural resources – including water, soil, wildlife and their human community. “We can feed the world best by modeling our farms on forests, not on factories….in our climate they should be rainfed, polycultural and mostly untilled,” she writes.

Wolfgang first came to northern California in 2000 to study sustainable agriculture at UC Davis. She fell in love (as many of us transplants do) with the area, which she affectionately calls “Lobataland,” or land of the valley oak (Quercus lobata), and it was during her time in Davis that she wrote (and illustrated) “Sacramento Valley Feast: How to find, harvest and cook local, wild food… All Year Long!” – see photo above. My copy is well-worn and dog-eared to mark pages with edible wild plants I want to try. The book is an adventure in finding and preparing seasonally available wild or foraged edible plants in our region, for instance I spent an day in early April pulling a carpet of oxalis from one of my garden beds and lo and behold, Wolfgang’s book features several ways of preparing this tangy herb in late March.

Wolfgang moved to the North State and founded Springfed Organic Farm & Nursery (previously Twining Tree Farm) in 2006. While the entire farm comprises 20 acres of sloping blue oak woodland, her crops are fairly well contained to about 3 acres behind a fairly inconsequential fence: “The deer in my area on the west side of the valley are blessedly small, so they don’t jump it,” she says with marked relief. She began offering a Winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, in which you buy a “share” of a farm’s harvest for a set price over a set amount of time) in the winter of 2008/2009. While the CSA is not currently being offered, you can purchase plants directly from Wolfgang to populate your own garden.Photo: Crops at Springfed Organic Farm & Nursery under their trusty floating row covers of agricultural fleece. Wolfgang uses the row covers to protect crops from frost and cold nights as well as to conserve water in the soil from windy sunny days.

To get a taste of Wolfgang’s sense of food, gardening and humor – on her website, she described her former Winter CSA: “In mid-winter, when (Redding) farmers’ market absurdly shuts down, that’s when the Twining Tree Farm CSA kicks into gear. For $25 or less per week, you can pick up a brimming basket of veggies from mid-December to mid-April!! So… a CSA is also called a farmshare or a farm subscription, and it means you sign up for a share of a farm. Each week, you get a share of that week’s harvest! In this case, you’ll get one-fifteenth of the bountiful rainy-season harvest at Twining Tree farm, plus some select goodies (onions, nuts, some squash, and an array of seasonal fruit) passed on to you from other local family farms. Everything will come from within 60 miles of Redding, and as far as I know, the Twining Tree CSA will be the only 100% local CSA in Redding this year. Sorry, no bananas or pineapples! A typical weekly basket might include…Carrots or sunchokes, Kohlrabi, golden turnips, or fennel, Winter squash! Beets, Radishes or salad turnips, Mixed stir-fry greens, Chard or kale, Bok Choy or other hearty Asian veggies, Salad Mix or lettuce, Some type of local fruit, like mandarin oranges, winter apples, dried peaches, sun-dried tomatoes, or persimmons…Fresh herb — parsley, cilantro, or dill, Dried herbal treat — coriander, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, or herbal tea grown and dried on the farm! Garlic, Onions, scallions or leeks, Pecans or walnuts. All for $25 or less! Not a bad deal! But please know that the above is not a guarantee. When you join any CSA, you are buying a _share_ of the farm, and you get what is available. Sometimes it’s a little meager, sometimes it’s a bonanza, and sometimes it’s a bunch of crazy heirlooms you’ve never even heard of before! That’s the fun of it — it’s a quirky little pie-slice of your local farm landscape. Photo: Brassicas going to seed in March – Wolfgang plucks the flower heads to add to stir fries and salad mixes, as well as letting some of them go to seed. She then collects the seed for next year’s crops.

Her knowledge and love of wild edibles informs Wolfgang’s crops, the produce she takes to the Redding Farmers market and her nursery plants. These might include wild edible plants many of us think of as “weeds,” like miner’s lettuce and chickweed, a nutty-tasting mildly bitter green. “Chickweed is best in January or February, before it goes to seed and becomes more bitter,” Wolfgang told me as I snacked on the greens while she showed me around Springfed Organic Farm & Nursery. We peeked at the peas coming along and about to be trellised; she pointed out the perennial kale and brassicas and choy’s going to seed, which she will collect and save for next year’s crops; she looked proudly over her rows of garlic – high and strong. While Wolfgang does have irrigation in place for her crops, seasonal rain is the first line of irrigation defense, followed by a rainfed storage pond, followed finally by a traditional well, which she rarely draws on for her crop irrigation. For feeding her crops, Wolfgang relies on regular applications of compost and composted manure, and she sometimes adds an application of gypsum, potassium and sulphur, which she mixes herself. Soil health and tilth is one of her passions and at least yearly she has a laboratory analysis done of her cultivated soil to stay on top of any imbalances. She also keeps a fairly detailed journal about her crops and seasonal factors from year to year.

For Wolfgang and Springfed Organic Farm & Nursery, the idea of the winter growing season fits in perfectly with her philosophy of working in synch with our climate. It rains in winter, so she plants for winter growth and harvest. “Some people say that here in the warm Sacramento Valley, we have ‘no winter’. Actually, we have a long, harsh winter when all but the hardiest creatures perish without serious coddling. It runs from June to October. Funneling irrigation water from our formerly wild rivers, or pumping groundwater faster than it can be recharged, is not a sustainable way to grow food. Any truly sustainable agriculture for our Valley must eventually be rain-fed, or very close to it. To that end, we are trying to re-center our farming on the winter, and letting the land mostly rest in the summer.” Photo: Wolfgang Rougle peeking at her crops under their protective row covers.

Many home gardeners recognize this rhythm intuitively in their own gardens as well and do our most active gardening in autumn and spring when it’s not pouring rain on us or too hot to breathe, and so when I first read this statement by Wolfgang, I felt myself nodding in agreement. And once you acknowledge the summer dormancy, it just makes sense on many levels to increase our attention to winter edible gardening to a level of equal importance with our summer warm-weather crops of edibles. Photo: Garlic rows strong and proud at Spring Fed Farm.

“Sacramento Valley Feast,” is available at Lyon Books in Chico, at Discover Earth in Red Bluff, from Wolfgang at the Redding Farmers Market, or by contacting Wolfgang directly: springfedfarm@yahoo.com.

Photo: Perennial kale, from which Wolfgang harvests leaves all winter – the gnarled stalks summer-over till next year’s season.

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell

In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.

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