It turns out that our Virginia woods are teeming with edible plants!
If I had to use one word to describe the last four months, I would
say “rich.” From the provisions in nature, to the special moments of work and life shared with brothers and sisters, to expanding and learning new things, this has truly been a rich period for the Virginia community. It has also been a time of asking questions.
Why are we called to this place during this time of world crisis? What purposes are we to advance during this season? What burdens should we carry for our community members around the world who cannot meet together to work and pray?
It has been a beautifully reflective time, yet a serious time. We feel the gravity of needing to keep pace with whatever God would have us do and are grateful to have a context in which to give our lives.
The mood in the surrounding area during the shutdown has been calm. Southwest Virginia is quite rural, and there were few reported cases of the virus. At first, no one in town wore masks. Church meetings and large gatherings were canceled, but absent was a fearfulness and suspicion that seemed to have touched the rest of the world.
Our own lives within the community have hardly been affected. We no longer have large gatherings. But in small groups we still work together and interact with one another, almost more so than we did before the shutdown.
Which brings me to the woods, the ramps and muddy knees.
Harvesting the Woodlands
While the world was shutting down and people were distancing themselves from one another, I found myself standing under a canopy of green leaves in a tall forest, holding a basket full of wild golden morel mushrooms. I watched Brother Micah Connors bending on his knees to dig ramps (a variety of wild onion) out of the dark woodland soil. The travails of the world felt far away while we were surrounded by those lush woods and songs of birds.
We strongly felt in our hearts to seek out the natural provisions in the forest. We began reading books and doing a lot of research about identifying wild plants and foraging for food. It turns out that our Virginia woods are teeming with edible plants!
Flowers such as redbuds and black locust blooms are not only beautiful, but very tasty and a good source of vitamins. Wild greens such as chickweed, dandelion, watercress, garlic mustard, and wild garlic provide welcomed fresh salads after a lengthy brown winter. As an extra benefit, they began to grow long before the garden greens are ready.
The morel mushrooms are by far my favorite woodland
edible. The locals call them dryland fish, or hickory chickens. If you collect enough of them you can have a hearty meal.
And in all of this we got such a tangible picture of how we are cared for in the smallest details. We heard the song of love and provision resounding in the piles of morels and around the fire as we roasted venison and cattail shoots. Our eyes have been opened to see a garden where before were weeds and nameless plants.
As a community, we feel the need for true sustainability in every area of our lives. Part of this vision is to grow a garden together. In the past, we had separate homestead gardens. Starting in 2020, we all came together to grow our bigger crops jointly (in addition to the gardens at our homes). It has been wonderful in so many ways.
Few sights are more beautiful than seeing people working in the garden, laughing and sharing gardening advice, stories and simply their time with one another.
We now have nearly two acres of shared gardens. They overflow with vegetables: green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, squash, okra, sweet potatoes, beets, corn, and lettuce. We love diversity, and have planted several varieties of each.
One of our favorite harvests has been sweet sugar snap peas. Sister Lindsay happened upon a variety of sweet pea in a seed catalog that we had never tried, so she ordered the variety as an experiment.
And what a success! We picked and ate the crunchy little pods
for weeks. Those plants just kept producing more and more and we never got tired of them. There was even enough left over to gather ten pounds of seeds for next year.
We had our second baptism
at the end of June. Rebekah Lee, Rebekah Connors, and Robert Lee all pledged their lives to Jesus.
How precious it was to watch these young folks commit their hearts to something bigger than themselves. Many joyful, victorious tears were shed that weekend. We all had red eyes and puffy faces, but no one cared a bit!
Our fellowship continues to grow. Brother Doyle and Sister Janet Borman arrived in April, planning to stay for two months only. They are still here and are we glad!
Brother Kevin Borman and his family arrived shortly after. Brother Jedediah and Sister Paula McAllister came in July.
Brother Kevin came to Virginia with the aspiration of planting gardens specifically for saving seeds, which he and his family have done. Already, there are 3 1/2 acres of seed gardens brimming with vegetables.
Another project that the Bormans have helped us push forward is farming with our horses. They have worked with our Suffolk mares, training them to pull the cultivator and our wagon. This is a longstanding dream coming true.
The list of sustainability needs is extensive, but the next big project is our community greenhouse. A greenhouse is essential for us to produce food over the winter and extend our summer garden season. We have set ourselves the deadline of having the greenhouse finished by the end of autumn.
I walked into our local gas station the other day to pay for fuel, and my heart sank. The ladies behind the counter wore masks. A sign on the door said that a mask was required to enter. And every other small business in town had the same sign.
It has arrived. Maybe not all at once, but the fear and tension that for so long we felt sheltered from has begun trickling into the town. But
no matter what storm is brewing, our community holds to a stronger, better way than fear. Despite the drought and locusts that try so hard to destroy it, our garden is going to grow!
To our brothers and sisters all over the world, much love from Nickelsville!