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As I said in my post about our fungi forage last weekend, that walk taught me to confidently identify about half a dozen wild mushroom species, and the wild food walk we did in the early summer taught me how to identify another half dozen things, mostly green leaves. These built on things I’d learnt how to identify myself and the obvious things that we all know (nettles, dandelions, blackberries etc). So after a couple of years of being interested in wild food, I can identify maybe 25 things with enough confidence to eat them. That’s not exactly that many when you consider the variety of stuff out there.

When I want to learn a new craft or a new way to cook or bake something, I tend to grind it – a video game term for doing some repetitive task/quest over and over again in order to “level up” as quickly as possible so you can go onto more exciting things. When I was figuring out my (lazy) way to make slow rise no knead bread, I made it every other day for a fortnight. By the end of it, I was knocking out perfect, uniform loaves without much effort at all. By grinding it, I can quickly learn from my mistakes and don’t ever get stuck in a “it didn’t work last time, I don’t want to try again” slump.

But I can’t grind wild food. Nature won’t let me grind. It won’t let me focus on finding just one type of thing at any given time. I have to learn by its schedule and its randomness, an enforced slow learning curve.

Growing things in our garden is possible even worse. I’ve usually got a couple of months to collect and experiment with different wild plants before they go out of season, but I have, by and large, got one shot at growing things each year. If I miss the narrow sowing window or my seedlings die a few days after transplanting, that’s pretty much it – I have to wait a year to try again.

I always feel a bit sad when each wild food window closes – but I suspect it’s good for me to have these limitations in part of my life. It’ll teach me patience and there is nearly always something new to move onto finding or planting. I can continue reading about boletes & russulas and tomato seed varieties & manual pollination techniques over the winter – grinding the theory – but I have to wait until next year to continue the practical work.

After three decades of flitting from one thing to another fractionally more exciting thing, I think developing the skills of patience and sustained year-on-year learning is as important for me and my sustainable living as being able to tell the difference between a death cap and field mushroom. I just wish I’d started earlier ;)

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