Tashia Hart’s passion is preserving a culture.
The Duluth-based, Anishinaabe ethnobotanist uses skills passed down from family, as well as her biology degree from Bemidji State University, to identify indigenous and wild plants for use in the kitchen.
And her craft and passion extend to many other mediums.
Hart took time to answer a few questions for the News Tribune about her work in the fields and beyond.
Q. You’re a multiplatform creative, a bead artist, author, chef. (Am I missing anything?) What inspires your work?
A. I think that about covers it!
I work in the disciplines of writing (nonfiction, fiction, Y/A, poetry), beadwork, natural materials art (birch bark, etc.), culinary arts, and more recently, I've been exploring videography. I'm also a freelance biologist.
My work is influenced by my identity as an Anishinaabekwe and the drive to preserve, revitalize, evolve and unfold a continued Anishinaabe presence into the modern world.
I also seek to create a dialogue of appreciation for the natural world and a responsible place humans are able to inhabit inside of it.
Subjects and themes found within all of my practices typically regard: plants, people, traditions and cultural practices surrounding food on the landscape.
Q. Tell me about your intro to foraging.
A. One of my earliest foraging memories, I was given a large cup and instructed to pick blueberries. I remember being delighted over and over by finding the sweet berries hiding under leaves. Not many of them actually made it into the cup.
After this memory, picking things like berries and tea were done, but we never were told it was "foraging." We were learning life ways.
Q. What makes a good forager?
A. A sense of responsibility, respect and acknowledgement for the plants you are gathering. They have rich lives we will never fully understand.
Attention to detail. Understanding of ecosystems, and how plants change throughout the seasons. Knowledge of plant habits and structures, to correctly identify them.
After that, having the ability to walk, stand, stoop, crouch and reach into scratchy bushes for hours while carrying a backpack and/or basket(s) is helpful. And you have to be OK with insects and spiders. And having a good sense of direction or foraging with someone who does, is always a plus.
“We never were told it was 'foraging.' We were learning life ways.”
Q. Favorite hot spots?
A. Anyplace clean and quiet.
Besides that, some of my favorite types of areas are based on the seasons: forests with ferns and leeks in springtime; in summer, I like bushy/scrub areas with fruits and hazelnuts; fall mushrooms; in winter, I like birch stands and swampy areas. With that said, I love to frequent all types of environments to check up on how things are coming along even if what I would harvest there isn't ready. I like to say hello and offer kind words of thanks and appreciation, and it's good to keep in touch, you know?
Q. What're some staples in your kitchen, foraged or not?
A. Manoomin (wild rice), fish and venison.
Q. Any food discoveries you’ve uncovered in your work?
A. The real discoveries come with the intimate introduction and subsequential relationships built over a lifetime that follow with individual plants.
These relationships are very personal, subjective discoveries that I can't quantitate with science or measuring cups.
Q. What are you working on now, food-related or not?
A. I'm currently authoring two book projects: a manoomin cookbook in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society Press, as well as a Middle Grade/YA series starring a young Anishinaabe woman who navigates a layered reality in the Great Lakes Region.
I have completed the first book in this Middle Grade/YA series and look forward to authoring the second over the next year or so. I am working with a press out of New Mexico for this project, and received an ARAC (Arrowhead Regional Arts Council) career development grant to work on editing the first manuscript. It's going well!
Q. Anything else we should know?
A. Foraging isn't just a hobby. It's a cultivation of personal, social and cultural habits that can bring you real relationships with the natural world. If you pay attention, you'll pick up on some of the language and communication that is going on all around us. Besides having life sustained and enriched, this is the biggest benefit of being a good forager — joining in on the conversation.
More info: tashiahart.com