Episode #70 Wild Weeds/Living Foods: Katrina Blair of Turtle Lake Refuge on Wild Foraging, Plant Whispering and healing the earth
How can we bring vibrancy, life, diversity and connection back to the land? How would we be if we listened to all the wild plants of our land? Katrina Blair first listened to plants at the age of 11 – and is now transforming her local community. In this inspiring podcast, she leads us through ways we, too, can connect with plants as our teachers. .
Katrina began studying wild plants in her teens when she camped out alone for a summer with the intention of eating primarily wild foods. She gained an MA from John F Kennedy University in Orinda, CA in Holistic Health Education and – as she tells us in the podcast – went on to found Turtle Lake Refuge in 1998, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to celebrate the connection between personal health and wild lands. She teaches sustainable living practices, permaculture and wild edible and medicinal plant classes locally and internationally. She is the author of two books, one a raw food cook book’s ‘Recipes for Living Deep’ and The Wild Wisdom of Seeds (linked below).
The Mission Statement of Turtle Lake Refuge says that it exists to celebrate the connection between personal health and wild lands.
“We are inspired to promote and practice sustainable ways of living, honouring wild nature and the evolution of community. Examples of our work include growing, harvesting and preparing local, wild and living food for the community, educating about the great values of the wild edible and medicinal abundance available in our area, providing local micro greens for the public schools, restaurants and stores and educating about organic land stewardship practices through our project Bee Happy Lands.”
Manda: My guest this week yet again stands at the intersection of all these things. Katrina Blair is the founder of the Turtle Lake Refuge, which is as delightful as it sounds. Its mission statement says, Our mission is to celebrate the connexion between personal health and wild lands. We are inspired to promote and practise sustainable ways of living, honouring wild nature and the Evolution of community. Examples of our work include growing, harvesting and preparing local, wild and living foods for the community. Educating about the great values of the wild, edible and medicinal abundance available in our area, providing local microgrants for the public schools, restaurants and stores, and educating about organic land stewardship, and if that’s not exactly the kind of thing that this podcast is aiming towards, then I don’t know what is. Her story is remarkable and inspiring, and I enjoyed every moment of this conversation. So people of the podcast, please welcome Katrina Blair. So Katrina Blair, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How is life this Sunday morning in Colorado? And thank you for getting up so very early for us.
Katrina: Absolutely. I appreciate being here and your flexibility in meeting me at this time. It’s gorgeous here in Colorado. Really sunny, gorgeous day.
Manda: Well, my experience in Colorado is limited to talking to people, but it always seems to be an absolutely gorgeous day. Fortunately, here on the edge of England and Wales is also a gorgeous day. So I’m not too envious. So we’re talking to you because you are, amongst many other things, the founder of the Turtle Lake Refuge, which sounded just such a glorious thing. So can you as a starter for ten, tell us how Katrina Blair got to be the person who set up such a gloriously lovely thing?
Katrina: Well, yeah, there was a need. I guess we’ll say it that way. I fell in love with plants really early on as a child. Actually, when I was 11, I had this quite profound experience of floating on an air mattress on a lake. And all my family went back to have lunch at the bank, and I just kept paddling all the way to the end of the shore, around the corner and out of sight. And these plants on the bank beckoned me over and they said, come. And I sat down with them and they said, you’re going to live your life with us and you’re home. And that feeling has stuck with me my whole life. And it’s really directed me to learn everything I could about plants. And right after high school, I decided to camp out for summer just to eat the wild plants. So I built a little… Well, I built a little lean-to at first and then eventually set up a tent. And I was on a bike and I’d stash my bike and go up into the woods and just spent the whole summer learning. And then I started noticing that some of my best friends, these plants were getting sprayed with herbicides and trying to get eradicated as I was learning the edible and medicinal plants. So Turtle Lake Refuge was well, the mission is to celebrate the connexion between personal health and wild lands. And so it was to feed people these wild weeds and also raise money to protect this open space land where there was going to be a development. And that’s right where this lake that’s called Turtle Lake, there’s a lot of turtles that live there. So it was protecting the 60 acres of land by the lake and educating how valuable these wild plants are and just increasing the health of our community in general.
Manda: Ok, so. So can I ask how old you were when the plants beckoned you over when you were on your airbed on the lake?
Katrina: Yeah, I was 11 years old
Manda: Wow. And so 20 years ago, 23 years. So is Turtle Lake, the lake on which you were on the air mattress? Is this your home.
Katrina: Different lake. Yeah, we were more north in the mountains.
Manda: Oh yeah. And so in your quest to get to be there, did you go off and study? I don’t know, plant biology or ecology or something at university or has this all been taught by the plants?
Katrina: No, that’s right. In college I got a degree in biology and I did my projects on the wild medicinal plants and edible plants of the San Juan mountains, which is where I was. And it was wonderful because I could do these independent studies where I would take off for an entire month, go live in the woods, study the plants and come back and write a paper. So for college, I got to do these wonderful studies and then wrote my thesis, a whole little book on the edible medicinal plants.
Manda: And have you published the book?
Katrina: Well, honestly, that one no, I’ve published two other books. I thought that would be the only book I would publish. And so I’m still waiting to do that one.
Manda: Of course. And I’m curious, there aren’t many 11 year olds, there aren’t even many 22 year olds who are capable of going off to live on their own in the wilds. Did you go off and get tuition with, I don’t know, wilderness people? Or did you innately know how to do this, or did the plants help you?
Katrina: I grew up pretty independent. It was pretty amazing. I have two amazing parents. My dad, a geologist, opened the door to the wild. And so we would go climbing and mountaineering and backpacking and rock, you know, skiing. And then my mom was really oriented in health and she opened the door to total freedom for me because she actually had arthritis when I was young. And so I was very independent and supporting her, her mobility in different ways. So between the two, I had total freedom and the skills to be independent in the woods.
Manda: Wow. Did you with your understanding, as you’ve come to understand plants as medicine, have you begun to treat your mother?
Katrina: Well, she was the pioneer for me around health because she actually did a fast when I was about two years old, and she had gone twelve years of Western medical traditions with arthritis and lots of drugs and surgeries. And she did a juice fast, and after about four days of juicing, her pain disappeared, this chronic pain for so many years. So it was a huge wake up epiphany for her. And she started my brother and I on green juice every day, twice a day, actually, and lots of living foods and sprouts. And so we just grew up with that as it being normal, even though we were kind of strange in school, what we ate. But she doesn’t have arthritis anymore, any of the active degeneration. But her body has had so much surgery that the mobility is still challenged, you know, and limited in some ways. But, yeah, the wild food, you know, as I would integrate wild food, she would be my experimental, Hey, try this!
Manda: Fantastic. What amazing parents to have. So I want to talk about tartlet refuge, but before we get there, I’m still completely enamoured of this 11 year old. I’m really enamoured of the parents that let their 11 year old go off on an airbed on a lake out of sight. So kudos to your parents. And your experience of talking to the plants, because it seems to me that if we are going to create a new way of being as humans, then it is that capacity to connect with the more than the human world is going to be the key to it. How do you connected with other than human things before, was it a part also of your family’s tradition?
Katrina: Yeah, the connexion with the plants is is very deep. It’s within, but it’s also energetic, very emotional experience in the sense of: there’s feeling. I guess that’s how I would describe it, is there’s this passionate feeling of inspiration that comes when I see a plant and understand either what its medicinal value is, or its ability. So it’s this emotional relationship with a plant that I’m connecting with that’s really alive, you know? It’s a place where we touch, you know, and I don’t know exactly how to describe it because it doesn’t come in… it comes in words later. But the emotional connexions first, and then I’ll get the inspiration that might translate into, oh, you’re really bitter and you’re going to really support my liver. You are, you know, it’ll show up in these words that come. But the connexion is emotional for me.
Manda: And I’m still trying to get.. so people for people listening. What I don’t want them to come away with is the idea that Katrina Blair’s magical and was able to do this, and nobody else can do it, so I don’t even need to try. And I think you probably are extremely magical, but I do want to help other people find the ways to do this, and teach their children how to do this. So was it an epiphany at 11 that this came out of nowhere, or was it something that through the 11 previous years of your life you’d been building towards this level of connexion?
Katrina: I would imagine that every every part of my life helped me be there for sure. But in that moment, it was the biggest high I’d ever experienced. I mean, it was this epiphany like, wow, that feeling of being home so deeply with the Land and the plants. And I already felt, you know, home in my family. I had a very loving, supportive growing up stage, too. But this was just another dimension of that connexion that I hadn’t experienced yet that intimately.
Manda: And are you able now to teach other people to find in themselves that depth of connexion?
Katrina: Well, what I’m doing now, I mean, just since my personal practise is that when life gets crazy and things are not as I would like them or, you know, I’m being challenged, I drop in this root that goes right to that Earth Land connexion, that similar feeling. And it’s like a rudder. And so I visualise well, it’s the Land that is my primary partner in this life. So I drop in and get connected there, and instantly I feel more calm and centred and supported. So there’s little practices that we can do every day that just help us connect with our place. And you know, I happen to be in Colorado, so this is my place. But wherever in Wales and England, you know, we’re across the world, we are tied in to our land, to our land so deeply. And it is such a support, especially when we bring it, you know, when we make that Conscious connexion.
Manda: Yes. Thank you. Yes, definitely. And so we are definitely going to get to Turtle Lake Refuge. But just before, you were speaking earlier about bitter: good for my liver, have you done a herbal training with, I don’t know, someone like Seija or other people who have fed into this? Or have you had the plants as your primary source all the way along without any human teaching?
Katrina: Yeah, I mean, honestly, it has been the plants that have been my, it’s been the direct connexion with the plants and tasting them in and immersing myself in the woods with them. That has been my training. And then, you know, now recently it’s been fun to collaborate with other herbalists and we’ll co-teach classes. And so my own knowledge is expanding through other people too. But truly, my sources have just been directly through with the plants all the way well into after starting Turtle Lake Refuge. Now it feels really fun to start collaborating with other herbalists and expand.
Manda: All right. I am so impressed. OK, so let’s move on then. So you said that in 1998 you were selling things, I think you said from your bicycle. And so tell us, how did this come out of dreaming? Did this come out of the plants as well? Because you’ve obviously moved South a bit. Tell us about that.
Katrina: It did come out of dreaming. That’s correct. I was in a dream group and I went to this dream cave and other special special Land with this cave. And actually the spark of Turtle Lake Refuge came there, came from that place. But I had a three wheel bicycle that was built in Durango, Mexico. And so I would make a wild food feast with soup and salad and main, entree, dessert. And this food is made from wild ingredients, locally harvested food from gardens. And it was all living. So I didn’t cook anything. I would dehydrate things. But it was focussed on the living enzymatic benefit of the foods. And the reason is because when I look into nature, I just notice that every other creature on planet Earth, besides humans and our pets, eat pretty much fresh, wild and local foods. You know, they just eat right from the landscape and they have this optimal experience of health and connectivity because of it. Like it’s a high vital experience when we’re imitating nature in that way. So I thought, well, let me, let’s see if we can bridge our human culture back into those deep ancestral roots of wildness similar to our wild teachers of the animals. So that’s why our food is rooted on the living, local and wild. So anyway, made this four course meal, soup, salad, main entree, dessert, juice, put all the plates, my granddad’s a great China, on my bicycle and pedal it over to the Smiley building, which is a community space in town. And I would store tables and chairs in her closet, and in the hallway, become a little makeshift cafe. So I did that for a year with the intention to raise a ton of money to buy this land by Turtle Lake,
Manda: Which was for sale, or was it not even for sale? You were going to make that happen too.
Speaker2: Yes, that land was for sale for five hundred thousand dollars. And yeah, I can’t say that I raised five hundred thousand dollars that year at five dollars a plate.
Manda: That would have been impressive.
Katrina: But we raised enough awareness that actually our neighbour decided to buy it and put it into a conservation easement. And we had met with him a couple of times and he just decided to do that independently. So the lake is protected. And then with Turtle Lake Refuge, there was this awareness. Oh, it’s not just about one piece of land we want to protect. We want to protect wild lands everywhere on the Earth. So let’s keep going.
Manda: So I really want to continue on this thread of the wild food, but I also want to take a little bit of a step sideways because my concept of Colorado, which stands to be corrected, definitely, is that leaving aside Boulder, which always seems to be a little jewel of amazing dharmaness, I had thought of Colorado as a fairly Republican place. And my projected idea of Republicans is that wild foods, eating raw, juice, green juice and and everything that you’re espousing is not really their thing. And so I’m wondering how, first of all, is my concept of Colorado completely wrong? And I’m totally prepared to accept that it is. But second, how did the ethos of what you were doing go down in the surrounding area?
Katrina: So Durango was like a little mini Boulder. So it has this very liberal nature to it, and partly because we are surrounded by nature in so many ways. And yeah, I think the bigger cities, Colorado Springs and Denver have a more conservative nature. But then we have these really lovely liberal places, too. And there was a piece where, yeah, I might have been doing this all by myself, not totally, because my mom was doing it too. But there was an essential piece of educating our community and that, you know, in the beginning it felt like a lot of work, too. Why would you want to do that, or why is that important? And so I started teaching classes, and my mom had already been teaching classes on nutrition prior. So she’d already done some of the legwork, huge amounts. She actually started the, helped keep going this little food buying co-op and turned it into our Durango Natural Foods Co-op. Our family’s been involved with a lot of great growing of maybe a more sustainable way of being.
Manda: Right. Ok, and the educating and that seems also to be key to what turtling refuge is doing. So let’s really talk about that. So the neighbour who bought the land, are they he she, person, completely on board with the ethos of what you’re doing and also connecting to plants?
Katrina: Not exactly, but that’s OK. You know, we don’t have to be on the same page with everything, but they were willing to put it into a conservation easement and that just means it protected forever. So that’s great. Yeah.
Speaker1: Yeah, totally. Yes. Let’s not argue if if they’ve got half a million dollars and they’re prepared to do this, then, that’ll do fine. So they buy the land. And I’m guessing it’s wild land that has been, did you say this was sprayed as well? Or was it just wild land that had been left wild? Draw us a picture of how it was when you first got there.
Katrina: I’m jumping into another story and I apologise for making that connexion. But you had mentioned had I written any books about the wild plants, and the most recent book that I wrote was called The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, and that was published in 2014. And the motivation for writing that book was because my nearest neighbour, a totally different person, started after I came into my Land and built a house and established myself there. My nearest neighbour came, bought some land, and started an herbicide company right next to my organic garden. A stinky business, a stinky shed. He sprayed all the city parks and county roads. And so he had a really big operation. And I was doing everything I could to see if I could get him to move to a different place. But eventually I realised, well, I don’t want him in my backyard, but I don’t want him in anyone’s backyard. So it was a big movement to educate on how important the weeds are, in particular, because they’re the bane of society – and yet they’re the most nutritious and edible, and essential even for regenerating the Earth from our human disturbance. So that’s why I wrote that book. And that’s also why I really did a big focus on creating organic parks in town, which now our town’s adopted an organic lands resolution.
Manda: So this sounds like the kind of thing that we could all be doing in our local communities wherever we are in the world. So can we go unpack that a little bit? Tell me about the process, because I’m guessing it wasn’t as straightforward as that just sounded.
Katrina: No, not at all. But you’re right, it is something that we can each one of us, wherever we live in our communities, that’s a really important action that we can take to care for our Earth. And that is just to stop the spraying and herbicides on to public and private lands. And there’s so many better ways to do it organically without petrochemicals and a weed and feed toxic soup. So I guess I would recommend starting by finding out with the Parks and Recreation departments, with the cities or the city council, talking to the city mayor, but just asking questions, what are the policies of our private lands and the weeds? And unfortunately, it’s still pretty, pretty common that most places spray, and they spray in the woods as well as in the cities. There are more organic products. So that might be a good way to start off, just requesting: hey instead of using the typical stuff, use another product that is certified as being less harmful.
Manda: Or just stop spraying. So so you said you set up, or you persuaded the local council to create organic parks. Draw us a picture of what the parks used to look like and then how they are now?
Katrina: Well, we asked to have one park as a trial park, and this took about a year to get. But finally they said yes and Turtle Lake Refuge, so our non-profit was the volunteer coordinator of that park. So we would have weed harvesting parties, and we put compost tea on the park and that was successful. And the next year, we asked, can we have two parks? And they actually gave us another one. So we, then the city took over the managing of the park. And then the next year we asked for more, and they then made a stand and said no, that’s enough. You know, that’s it. Out of all the parks, two is enough. That wasn’t good enough for us. So we went ahead and wrote with a friend who’s a lawyer, we wrote a city ordnance and got it onto the ballot the same year that marijuana was on the ballot for Colorado. So that was in 2012. And we knew all the weed people were going to come out and vote yes. And the city knew that, too. And it was a big drama. And they were threatened, because our ordnance said that all the parks were going to be turning over to organic next year. And that was a big leap. So there was a lot of debate, a lot of meetings. And I was not very popular during that time.
Manda: How many parks are we talking about? So you had two, have many parks are there?
Katrina: Maybe about 50? And there happened to be a big golf course that we didn’t realise that was part of city property, too. So they were not happy about being told they had to change into organic practices. Eventually, the mayor and a lot of people said, could you please take it off the ballot and let’s work together in a different way? And I thought, well, we do have to go together. So instead of you know, so we did, we ended up taking it off the ballot, sitting down with the entire council and the mayor and a lawyer and everybody, and rewriting something. And then that became the Organic Lands Resolution that got passed unanimously. And the next year, a third of the parks changed over to organic. And then we’re currently still in a relationship with our city. And now they’ve actually hired us, Turtle Lake Refuge to manage the parks.
Manda: Yes. Ho ho, well done. Yes. So what happened to the golf course? I’m curious to know, is that still not organic?
Katrina: It’s still not organic.
Manda: A green desert as are all going to come Evolution golf courses are all going to be turned into wild natural resource for future people doing future things. Did you have to take it off the ballot to talk to them? Could you not say no, you talk to us quickly, because we’re leaving it on the ballot until we’re happy. Is that too much like, am I being too adversarial here?
Katrina: Maybe we kept it on the ballot until we had a written resolution. I’m not exactly sure. But at some point we did have to sort of surrender and realise, OK, we got to take these steps together. Because if we went ahead and pushed it through, they would have turned it around the next year, and we wouldn’t have gotten ahead, we would have been adversaries more. So it felt important to be in good relations, or at least attempting. It took a while to get into a good relationship with everyone. But we are now actually ten years later, we’re still in relationship, and we are making progress. You know, there is still this motion to continue to add more parks. And for example, this year, one of our efforts in creating organic parks was to host a dandelion festival. So this will be, this year we’re having it again, and it’ll be our 12th annual Dandelion Festival. And the city just gave us that park now.
Manda: Yes! So so tell us what a dandelion festival is.
Katrina: It’s a spring celebration. It’s on May 1st, Beltane. And so we’ll have a maypole dance. And we’re having lots of local bands and music and local food. We, Turtle Lake booth shows up with dandelion pesto, and dandelion ice cream, and dandelion lemonade. You know, we’re selling all kinds of good food off of our bicycle, the three wheel bike still.
Manda: Yay! The same one?
Katrina: Yes, still the same one.
Manda: Ok, hang on a second, because my beloved is also training to be a herbalist. And she had made some dandelion tea, and I made myself some the other night, and I ended up – this is probably oversharing, I apologise to the podcast – but I ended up getting up about hourly overnight to pee. And she said, Oh yeah, why did you do that? It’s a well-known, massive diuretic. And here I am listening to you having an online festival where you have dandelion pesto, dandelion ice cream, dandelion beer, dandelion everything. Does the entire town end up having nights and nights of bladder crisis?
Katrina: No. One of its names is ‘Piss in the Bed.’
Manda: Yes, in French. Yes. She’s, I don’t remember how you said it, but exactly that, that is the French name. So how do you get past that one? I’m very curious.
Katrina: Well, in addition to it being a diuretic, it also is an incredible source of protein. It has more calcium than milk. You know, it’s a real food also. So I would say I just see it as a food. And I think if I’m, you know, juicing it a lot, which I do, but it certainly has a diuretic effect. But it isn’t only that. It actually that’s where it becomes secondary to its nutrient density. And more than anything, you know, we’re getting people to eat their wild greens instead of spraying them. And spring is the perfect time to do that.
Manda: Yeah. Yes. And the dandelions are amazing. So I will maybe just learn to eat the dandelions in the morning, not just before I go to bed, and then everything will be fine. You also do something called the Telluride Mushroom Festival. I want to come back to that, but we haven’t quite, I really want to get a picture for people around the world of: your neighbour poured really quite large amounts of money into these sixty acres. Tell us a little bit. Paint us a picture of how Turtle Lake Refuge looked when you very first walked onto the land the first day when the easement had been done, the lawyers had waved their magic runes. It’s there, it’s protected. What did it look like, and then how have you developed it over the years?
Katrina: Ok, well, I’m going to draw you a map. So Turtle Lake, let’s see, is right here. There’s the Turtle. And that’s this beautiful lake. And it’s about 60 acres of open space land. And that’s just wild. It’s not, that’s not where I live. I have to go by there, and then I go up the hill and just down the hill, and then my farm is over here, and it’s a two acre farm. So the wild land is just this beautiful lake. And we go swimming there in the wintertime. It freezes over and we ice skate, but it’s just wild. It’s still to this day, this beautiful, wild place. And it’s very close to my farm. But I’m up and over the hill right here in this two acres. And there’s other houses and things going on. I have neighbours over here.
Manda: Ok, so but the land at Turtle Lake has never been developed. Nobody’s ever gone in and cut the trees down. It’s been wild all the way. So have you just put a fence around it and left it? And that’s it?
Katrina: Yeah, I guess there is a little bit of a deer fence in some places. Some of it’s not fenced at all. It just is wild. The lake is free.
Manda: All right. But then you talk about in all of your work with the organic parks and the dandelion festival, we at Turtle Lake Refuge, our non-profit, come and do X, Y and Z. And I believe you have a cafe. So are they off the Land somewhere else?
Katrina: So we have the cafe, and that’s over here, back in town, which is about seven miles from where I live. So we have a headquarters in town right in the centre of Durango, and that’s still where we now serve lunch twice a week, every Turtle Tuesday and Frog Friday, from 11:11 to 2:22, we have this beautiful headquarters where we serve lunch twice a week, we turn into the cafe. And then the rest of the time we have a commercial kitchen and we have a growing space, a growing room, and we grow micro greens for our public schools, and our restaurants and stores. So, yeah, that’s back that way.
Manda: And do you hold courses to teach people how to forage and and what to do with the greens? Is that on the land, or is that in Durango at the centre? Or both?
Katrina: Yeah, we might start at the centre and then we’ll take field trips out to the land, and then we’ll go into the woods, or we’ll go to Turtle Lake or, so when we do wild foraging, we go and get to know the land and where the plants are growing. But we have this wonderful education headquarters that’s at the cafe site.
Manda: And for people in the U.S. I’m thinking, is there a video? Is there a YouTube? Because wild foraging, it’s very local. I guess people in the UK or in Australia or Zimbabwe or wherever they’re listening, they need, we all need to work out what’s local to us, and what we can go and forage. But for people in the U.S. have you got online wild foraging stuff?
Katrina: Yes, to our website, which is TurtleLakeRefuge.org, there is a little video of me harvesting in the wild, just past Turtle Lake. And so at least you can get a sense of the landscape right there.
Manda: All right. We will put that in the show notes, so people can go and look, because what we want is that everyone listening to this becomes someone who sources most of their food from their surrounding countryside within the next year. That’s our new target. So looking at your website, I did see the Dandelion Festival. And then I also saw a bunch of other things, including the Telluride Mushroom Festival. Am I saying that right?
Katrina: Yes, you are .
Manda: So that sounds fun also. Do you do you get people to make mushroom pesto and mushroom ice cream and mushroom beer? Tell us about that.
Katrina: That’s right. When you go to the mushroom festival, everything is mushrooms. It’s a wonderful journey for me. For the last 13 years or more, I’ve walked from Durango to Telluride, and it’s about 100 miles. And typically I don’t bring any food. I just walk and I forage. And it takes about seven days. And it’s one of my favourite times of the year, where I get to recentre and reconnect and really have that emotional experience with the plants. It’s kind of my retreat to retune in. And so it goes over eight mountain passes, that are about 13000 feet high, and just a really spectacular journey. I’ll eat mushrooms. I don’t bring a stove, I’m eating like a wild animal. Just hand to mouth.
Manda: Is the water on the way, or do you have to carry water?
Katrina: I just drink from the creeks, the wild creeks. And that was a journey that I chose many, many years ago. I’ve been eating wild foods so much that I had still been trained. oh, don’t drink the water. You’ll get giardia.
Manda: That was my next question. Yes.
Katrina: And then one day I just really tuned in to the creeks and realised, well, I’m going to train my body to be able to accept this wild water, so I started sipping on creeks, and especially at high elevations when it was really whitewater and turbulent, an area that I would sip on that and then I just grew that relationship till now, creeks are my main source of water. I still to this day, just go to my local little creek, fill up my jugs and bring it home. I even prefer that over well water, and certainly city water!
Manda: Yeah, it’s living isn’t it. It feels alive. We’re starting to do something similar here, and everything tastes different. The things that we drink, and the food that we cook. Brilliant. So people will want to know, and actually I want to know, when you get to the mushroom festival, are we talking primarily is this a hallucinogenic mushroom festival? Or is it a festival of eating mushrooms?
Katrina: Well, it’s everything, I have to say. You know, people do, there’s some component of the wild, you know, journeying. The majority, the ninety percent of the mushroom festival is very intellectual, and scientific, and culinary, and medicinal, and regenerative land, and so incredible speakers from all over, and really inspiring how, you know, the mycelium of the mushroom is one of the largest organisms on Earth and how interconnected it is. And when we tap into that, we get tapped into this interconnectivity. So it’s a big party in lots of ways, but really it’s just this like big summer camp. People come back every year and it’s in the mountains. So beautiful.
Manda: It sounds glorious. So are there… we’ve talked a bit about the mycelium before on the podcast. But just for people who perhaps haven’t listened to previous episodes, just give us the edited highlights of what mycelium is, what it does and how we can work with it.
Katrina: Beautiful. So when you’re, if you’re a gardener, or you grow food or you’re even tied into some natural land or even, you know, your yard, it’s the mycelium in the soil that creates so much nutrients for the plants to grow. So they’re just an essential part for all of life. And, you know, they help distribute water, and vital minerals and elements to allow the plants to grow. They create a stability in the soil. And then, of course, they fruit themselves and spread their spores. And there’s so many mushrooms that are very incredible, medicinal and edible. But also they are there to restore the earth. So they have such a role in so many ways. I want to just say one thing is that when I hike to Telluride, my backpack is very light because I’m not bringing food. By the time I get to Telluride, it has gotten very heavy because I’ve been harvesting mushrooms and wild plants and it has gotten huge. And then when I get to Telluride, I make a wild food feast for the whole mushroom festival. And it’s a really fun, yeah, and people get to learn all the wild plants that are around the area, and eat them.
Manda: Everybody listening is going to descend on Telluride. I can feel it. When does this happen in the year?
Katrina: It’s on August 18th, that weekend. It’s a four day weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Manda: Fantastic. When you hike, I’m trying to picture it. And I remember working with friends when I used to do clicker training, I used to come over to the States and I would think, I’ll just go for a wander in the woods. And they would go, Lyme disease! Ticks! And then I go, OK, OK, I’m all covered up. I’ve put my trousers and my socks and I’m not going to get any ticks. And I’d go for wander and then go Cougars! Bears! And it’s like, really? Can I just not walk anywhere? And you’re walking 100 miles over mountains that are 13000 feet high. Have you encountered all the things that I was warned about?
Katrina: Yeah, you know, it’s so interesting because when I was a kid, I was a gymnast. And my gymnastics team would get together and spend the night and they would watch these horror movies. And I got traumatised by these horror movies, but it wasn’t from animals, it was from humans. So that first summer, right after high school, when I camped out by myself in the woods, I was petrified for the first two weeks that I was out there. And I had this little mini wood chopping axe by my head. And every night I would, you know, be afraid, oh, somebody’s going to come and find me. And I’d have my axe. I’d have a plan, OK, if it’s they come, I’m going to grab my axe, I’m going to do this – whatever. And no one ever came. And eventually after two weeks, the fear disappeared. And then since then, the fear’s never come back. And I’m not afraid of the wild animals. It’s been more just that human component. So when I’m on wild walks, I don’t have that fear. But it took a while to get rid of a certain kind of fear. And I have run into bears and, you know, wild animals, but they don’t really love humans. You know, they smell us and they turn around and run. So it has never been a problem.
Manda: Again, looking at your calendar, there’s the Eagle, Mushroom and Wild Food Festival, and I’m trying to work out, is Eagle a place, or are you having an Eagle Festival?
Katrina: Eagle is a town in Colorado. And they also have a mushroom festival. And it’s a mushroom and wild food. I do both, but wild food is my focus. And then I luckily have this mushroom dimension, too, that I can tap into.
Katrina: And how long does it take, because I know in France the pharmacists are all trained in mushroom identification. So in France everybody collects mushrooms to eat. You take them into your local pharmacy and they go, these ones are dangerous, these ones are safe. But every year two or three people die because the pharmacists don’t always get it right, or not everybody goes to the pharmacist, they think they know what they’re doing. How have you learnt which ones are safe? Do you go to the plants and ask them? Or have you done courses with whatever you call a mushroom person?
Katrina: My mushroom information has come from all the great teachers in the mushroom festival. I go on Walkabout or Forays, we call it, so like an afternoon with some expert mushroom person. And what’s fun is that with mushrooms, there’s a gazillion mushrooms to learn, but there are maybe 10 mushrooms that you can learn that are very delicious. Just kind of starting with some of the really easy to know good edible mushrooms, where you can’t mistake them.
Manda: They’re really obviously safe.
Katrina: Yeah. You start with that and then, you know, most people just stay with that. But then the people who want to keep going, you know, they’re these fine tune levels.
Manda: How many species of edible mushrooms are there? Do you know? I’m just curious.
Katrina: I have no idea yet.
Manda: But hundreds.
Manda: Wow. And so what do you do in the winter? I’m. Are you still foraging in winter? Because for all of the species and indigenous people, that was the time when life got harder.
Katrina: Well, the fall is a really critical time when we harvest acorns and all the wild berries and we dry them and freeze them. And a lot of the wild greens, we create a wild food green powder, which is a real, real incredible supplement to our health more than anything that a supplement pill could give you. Because, you know, when we take a pill from the laboratory, they’ve extracted these minerals from plants. But when we go through an extraction process, that means cooking, processing, you know, it changes the nature. And so what we recommend people doing on their own, and then we also do this for people who don’t do it, but we’ll harvest the wild plants in their integral, vital stage and then dehydrate them, and grind them into this green powder. And then we put it in our recipes, but we’ll ingest this green superfood all winter long to get the minerals from the land. And our cafe, you know, runs year-round. So we’re using frozen chokecherries and wild buffalo berries in our deserts, and it’s not 100 percent wild, so we also get organic, local, you know, organic foods from the health food store too.
Manda: But so freeze freezing and dehydration are the two best ways of preserving things, they preserve most. With your green powder, do you have it analysed? Is it the same every year, or does it go through a change, depending on how the weather has been, or the land conditions?
Katrina: Well, it’s definitely different every year, and it does depend. Sometimes we have a bumper crop, and we can… yeah, it really is a seasonal art, I guess. And so it is unique.
Manda: Yes. I remember Rolling Thunder, who was one of the indigenous teachers who chose to teach white people saying back in the 80s that just because you can synthesise vitamin C in a lab does not mean it’s going to do the same for you as the vitamin C that you would get, if you chewed rosehips, or whatever other source of vitamin C. And so it sounds like that really has taken root with you guys.
Katrina: Oh, my goodness. I love that you brought that up, because in college, when I did my seniors, I guess it was my oral exam to graduate. I had this debate with the college professors about that very subject – about rosehip! Saying, it is not the same thing, you know, when you eat a rosehip versus when you synthesise the vitamin C and put it in a pill. And they would not agree with me and I would not back down. I wasn’t sure I was going to pass!
Manda: Gosh, well done. But you did. That’s an incredibly brave thing to do in your final exam. I couldn’t imagine doing it in class, but goodness Kat, I’m seriously impressed. But you did pass, so that was OK.
Katrina: I passed. I didn’t know if I was, but yeah.
Manda: Good. Yeah. And do these people come back over and say we realise you’re right?
Katrina: No, I have not heard from them ever since.
Speaker1: Ok, it’ll come. It will come. So where do you see yourselves going in the future? Where do you think the world is going? Where do you think the land around you is going? Are you influencing more than Durango? You’re influencing the local area, and then where are you yourselves going? I realise that’s three layers of big question, but you can handle it.
Katrina: Yeah. Thank you. Well, I want to bring up the land right next to me that got sprayed for twenty years by the herbicide company and there was a big fence between us. Well, three years ago they put that land up for sale, and we were able to acquire it. So our two acres of farm expanded to double: four acres. And we tested the soils, and they were very toxic, and 10 different herbicides were sprayed chronically for twenty years there. And then so what we did is we started using mushrooms, and using the mycelium to start breaking down those petrochemicals and the microorganisms, which includes bacteria and fungi. So we were putting on compost tea and the mushroom mycelium, a ton of mulch. Those microorganisms have the ability to break down the petrochemicals into inert compounds. So three years later, which is now, we’ve been testing every year and doing a lot of, you know, inoculation of this. We’ve tested that the actual soil is ready to grow food. There’s this great market garden that’s getting put in onto this new land now. And the stinky shed, which is where they stored all the chemicals, was a concrete twenty by thirty shed. And we used a lot of clay. And I had a friend who left a bunch of clay pottery that we rehydrated and did slip and slide mud parties, and covered the entire concrete with this clay. And it turned out it acted like a facial, a mud mask, and it drew out the toxins from the concrete. And then it would dry, and I’d scrape it off. And we did that multiple times. And actually when I took that dried clay, I had to dispose of it somewhere. And so I would put it in the back of my truck and drive it around back county roads. And just a little bit, you know, dilution is the solution. But it smelled just like herbicides. So I knew it worked. And then we sealed the building, and now we’re renovating it into a schoolhouse and it’s turning out really beautifully.
Manda: Oh, wow. So you’re going to run courses there?
Katrina: Yes. Yeah. It’s an educational centre, now out of the farm more. We still have our town. But this is more on site.
Manda: Ok, and just before we move on, you said you were inoculating with mycelia. And I understand her compost tea makes astonishing bacterial cultures in the way that ordinary compost makes bacteria cultures. How do you make mycelia cultures to put on the land to rescue it?
Katrina: Great. Ok, we call it a fungal soup, and what we’ll do is we’ll go just a little higher elevation than where we’re working. So if we’re in the valley, we might just go 50 to 100 feet higher, and underneath some beautiful evergreen trees will gather some of the duff, kind of the soil that’s got a lot of pine needles. And basically it’s very stable, and that has a lot of mycelium fungal network in there. So gather that soil, and then we’ll add a lot of our weeds. I mean, we do an organic weed mitigation project across the southwest Colorado now called Be Happy Lands, we create compost tea on site and this fungal soup. We break up a lot of these carbon, you know, the plants, stir it in with water and this fungal soil and then distribute it across the valley land. And it just helps inoculate the lower elevation with this more rich, vital mycelium-rich soil.
Manda: It doesn’t get killed off by the chemicals in the land. You’re spreading the mycelia, are they, how do they survive in this what sounds like an incredibly toxic environment?
Katrina: They actually have the enzyme to break down that toxin. So it doesn’t, it actually isn’t toxic to them. They can do OK.
Manda: Wow. Well done already. So you’ve got Bee happy Land. That sounds just glorious. So I’m guessing that involves also planting lots of amazing things that bees like.
Katrina: We do a lot of seeding. So instead of spraying herbicides to get rid of the weeds, we manually harvest them in visual places where reasonable. Then we seed native flowers and grasses, and we apply compost tea and a biodynamic weed remedy. And then the land, we’re helping the land, Basically nature’s already doing this, but we’re just helping it go a little faster. So we help stabilise and fertilise the land so that the next succession species will get established. Because the pioneer species, which are the weeds, are there just to help. They’re there because the land is disturbed, and some of the more native plants can’t survive there anymore. But they’re doing their part to restabilise the landscape so that the next succession and then the next succession can come in. And so our project is to help nature do that.
Manda: And if the primary species, the pioneer species, are there to help stabilise the land, do we not need to let them do their stabilising thing before the succession species can come in? You don’t need to let them be there for a decade or however long it is that they would normally be there? How is the land stabilised without them?
Katrina: Yes, that actually is the ideal. It takes less work from us. The unfortunate part is that there’s laws out there saying, oh, these are invasive species, they’re not allowed, it’s illegal. Nature’s already doing it and going to keep doing it. But if we want to have it happen faster, then…
Manda: Are you familiar with Doug Tallamy’s National Parks, or Home-Grown National Parks? It’s a great idea. And he’s, I think you can Google Home Grown National Parks. He wants 22 million acres to be returned to native species. He wants everyone to dig up their backyard, however big it is, or not dig it up, let it return, and have only native species so that they can create wildlife corridors, and begin to restore the ecosystem. And it seems to me that the thing that’s going to get in the way of that is the thing that’s getting in the way for you, is if there are laws going, you can’t do that because weeds are not what we want. So there’s going to have to be quite a big move, I would imagine, to get that kind of law changed. Is that happening?
Katrina: Yeah, there’s a, I love this definition of a weed. A weed is a plant in a place with a person with a problem. And so it’s not the plant that’s the problem. It’s the human thinking. If we start to see something as a problem, we need to go back to that permaculture perspective of change your lands and see that as a resource. And that’s what we’re doing by harvesting these weeds as our wild food super-powder. But also they are such a resource to the bees and all the pollinators. So there is this change of perspective that’s needed in the humans and in our laws. And right now, it doesn’t reflect that. We’re still thinking that they’re worse, the weeds are worse than the herbicides being sprayed. And yeah, that’s all.
Manda: Ok, we’ll get there. And what about in your local area? So you’ve been, you’ve obviously got the Town Council of Durango, City Council, whatever onside to the extent that they’re happy for you to be doing what you’re doing. Are you getting a kind of centripetal effect where areas around you are looking at what you’re doing and people in other towns are picking it up and replicating what you’ve done.
Katrina: Yeah, and actually it’s pretty amazing. It blows my mind in the sense of how we’re now, Bee Happy Land is being hired. Now the town of Telluride has hired us there. Five hundred acres of open space and the town of Ophir, which is just up, another mountain town, and the town of Mancos. So we’re being called to to really support organic land stewardship in other communities in the south west Colorado in big areas, big acres.
Manda: Yay, yay. And is that crossing political divides now? Are we beginning to get to the point where it’s not a political trigger point for certain communities, the word organic is is obviously from a different political basis. Is that happening?
Katrina: Yes, it is happening. I see that very much, but most people are just open to well, if it works, or, you know, more from a scientific neutral place.
Manda: OK, that’ll do. Yeah. It doesn’t matter really how they get there, as long as they do get there. And so you in terms of where you are going, you’ve got your market garden, you are renovating the stinky shed into a schoolhouse. Ten years from now, where do you think, have you any concept, I understand uncertainty principle and all of that, but have you a vision forward of where you would like to be?
Katrina: Well, I’ve been teaching this course called the Local Wild Living Soil. And it’s a two month or, you know, it’s an intensive couple of month course. And one of the students was from Wales, and he came in onto the land, the very year we bought the new property. And so he came to the new property, had this big house, a six bedroom, very nice house. So all the students got to move into the house, including our friend from Wales. And he came out just to take the class. And it was just so much fun, these international connexions where we’re, I guess I am seeing more and more connectivity across our Earth of sharing ideas and inspiration. Because he had a lot to share with us that I’m still learning from, or inspired by. And then we had a lot to share with him, that then he gets to take back to his communities. So I am seeing a lot of cross pollination with this real good Earth stewardship.
Manda: Yes. OK, that sounds amazing. Astonishingly enough, it doesn’t feel like it, but we have been going for nearly an hour. Is there anything else that you would like to say before we wrap up?
Katrina: Let’s see, yes. ‘There’s a secret right beneath your toes. From the ground is where the riches grows. Everywhere in the world where humans live is a free superpower that nature gives. You have 13 weeds from which to choose. Use your intuition, and you can’t lose. You are wise. So when you take a little bite, ask how much or how little to you feels right? Look, all of the wild animals know what to do. Eat your wild greens and join the zoo.’. Thank you!
Manda: Oh, that was fantastic.
Manda: Thank you so much, Katrina Blair, it has been such a pleasure talking to you. I have said I will never fly, but almost to be able to come and see your land, and eat your green powder, and experience Turtle Lake it would be worth thinking how to do it in a way that was going to be OK. So thank you so much.
Katrina: Yes. Thank you to all the work that you’re doing. I really appreciate your creative outreach in these ways.
Manda: Thank you. Well, we can have a mutual appreciation society. It’s been a wonderful time. Thank you so much. Have a good day.
Katrina: Ok, bye bye.
Manda: So that’s it for another week. Enormous. Thanks to Katrina for the energy, the inspiration, the vibrancy of her connectedness to the Land, and her enthusiasm and her deep understanding of the ways that we are all connected to the web of life, and can reconnect ourselves by choice. We can take the agency to go out and listen to the plants, and hear what they have to tell us. I know it’s easy to think that this only happens to other people. But my increasing experience is, these kind of experiences happen to all of us, if we slow down enough, if we take the time, if we stop and open and listen. And then people like Katrina are there, blazing a trail for what can be done. You could connect to your local County Council, Town Council, Parish Council, and make everything organic, all of the green lands, to stop the spraying, stop the cutting, make the verges live, make the parks alive, and explore and explain, and let the local people understand how much better this is for everyone involved. So go to it, people, this is your mission for this week.
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