Tending the Wild Collaborative: Ethnobiology Project

West Marin Commons ethnobiology project, the Tending the Wild Collaborative, grew out of a study group that began meeting in the fall of 2007.

Following a talk by Kat Anderson, author of Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, a group here began to explore the implications of Anderson’s work and the potential for establishing an ethnobiology garden in this area.

The evolving purpose of this group is “to explore wild plant harvesting, utilization, cultivation, and restoration in ways that honor California Indian traditions, protect diversity, and restore our relationship to the earth. We hope to discover how to bring into our lives the foods and plants native to our place in a respectful, practical, and sustainable manner.”

Ethnobiology is a study of the relationship between people and their natural ecosystems. Tending the Wild documents the reciprocity that once existed – and where not squelched, still exists – between native California people and wilderness1.

West Marin Commons has fostered this study group under the guidance of Kat Anderson and with the contributions of many. These include, among others: Nick Tipon, a Pomo elder with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria; Judith Lowry who has worked with native seeds and native restoration gardens at Larner Seeds in Bolinas for over thirty years; and Brock Dolman, director of the Water Institute at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. This list continues to grow.


Areas of Focus:

1. Grow native plants in our own gardens (or window boxes and in community gardens) for food, and foster demonstration gardens where native plants can be cultivated and their traditional uses taught. The Native Restoration Garden at the Livery Stable and the native planting along the Mesa Road Pathway have been inspired by this work and will continue to feature native plants.

2. Explore ethical harvesting and preparation of native plants for food.

3. Construct and use traditional tools for working the land.

4. Study the reciprocal relationships between people and ecosystem.

5. Contribute to the development of an Ethnobotanical Data Base coordinated by Kat Anderson through the USDA, covering all the tribes of California.

6. Promote historical awareness and understanding of traditional land management practices from California and Southern Oregon tribes, including local elders.


Examples of Local Native Plants Used for Food Include:

1. Hazelnut bushes (Corylus cornuta var. californica) Two have been planted at the Restoration Garden in Point Reyes.

2. Indian Lettuce or Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), which grows wild and is high in nutritional content. Claytonia is not a hard native food to cultivate. It can be incorporated in a small garden. It is a delightful green in February when fresh greens are less abundant.

3. The seeds of native grasses were an important food source for California’s indigenous people. Native grass seeds are a subject of research locally and are being shown to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

We have rediscovered old recipes and are developing new recipes, and processing methods, using some of these plants, including native perennial grasses.


Some particular goals of the West Marin Commons Ethnobiology Project:

1. Develop discussion of an ethic toward wild harvesting.

2. Cultivate native wild plants in the home garden.

3. Learn the complexity of plant communities – their needs and growing conditions and the insects and creatures they support, as well as all features of a healthy human/plant ecology.


Many are engaged already in related efforts. All are invited to participate in the online discussion group and on the WMCommons blog.

We are developing a list of related resources and links. Suggestions are welcome.

Events sponsored by West Marin Commons:

  • natural dye workshop with native plants by ecological artist, Rebecca Burgess, at the Livery Stable Native Garden in Point Reyes -  August 2009
  • A lecture/discussion series (link here), Illuminating Landscape: Inquiries into Land, History, and Culture, including:
    • Southern Pomo elder Nick Tipon of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
    • Ignacio Chapela,
    • Lillian Vallee, poet and writer from the California Central Valley

Workshops, discussions, and hands-on opportunities help expand our collective understanding of the local ecosystem and the role we humans can play in preserving and enhancing it. Look for the Fostering Forbs Workshops upcoming.

Native plants and stewardship practices are a hidden fountain of knowledge that can help us meet the challenges of climate change and community resilience, while teaching essential lessons about being with both ourselves and the world.

Like the plants themselves, some of this knowledge is gone and much is threatened. We hope our efforts will help keep it alive and growing – and will encourage others to explore and embrace it.

The discussion group is now up and running.You can link to it here:  http://groups.google.com/group/wmcommons-ethnobiology-project-a-tending-the-wild-collaborative/about

1. wilderness - the definitions, meaning, and use of this word and other linguistic/paradigmatic concepts are themselves a subject of inquiry for the Tending the Wild Collaborative.



In 1992 the tribe was established as the Federated Coast Miwok; then upon restoration, renamed the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. The tribe consists of both Miwok and Southern Pomo people. Tribal ancestors existed here for thousands of years with territorial lands which include all of Marin and southern Sonoma counties.


Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin (MAPOM) was founded in 1970 as a result of community involvement in the excavation of a Coast Miwok Village site.  Through a diverse range of programs and cooperative efforts, with groups such as Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the Point Reyes National Seashore, MAPOM seeks to promote accurate knowledge of the Coast Miwok Indians, the first people of Marin and southern Sonoma Counties. (from their website)

Online Forums

Commons Connect Forums provide a virtual gathering place to those who live and work in the West Marin Community. (Access to this local online forum is limited to those who work and live in the geographical area outlined here.)

A single registration allows community members to post local events on the Community Calendar, to post items of immediate importance on Alerts, and to access all of the forums including:

  • West Marin Soapbox: Campaigns, Causes, and Discussions
  • Over-the-Hill-Gang: Rides and Errands
  • West Marin Share: Reuse materials; share information and services -  a money free zone
  • West Marin Marketplace: rentals; things and services for sale
  • Tending the Wild Collaborative: An Ethnobiology Project
  • Local Food System Initiative: Food and garden related shares and information
  • Think Local West Marin: Appreciation and applause for our neighbors
  • Commons Connect Tech Support: Help with our Web site features
  • Volunteering Opportunities in West Marin: Help our local non-profits





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