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  • Writer's pictureAnneliese Abbott

The Organic Nature Lover: Euell Gibbons and Organic Gardening


Euell Gibbons
Euell Gibbons knew that humans could have a positive relationship with nature--both in foraging and farming

In June 1966, editor Bob Rodale announced a new series of article in Organic Gardening and Farming magazine. Titled “The Organic Nature Lover,” the series was authored by Euell Gibbons, author of three books on foraging and cooking wild plants: Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop (1964), and Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966). Previously, the magazine had focused almost exclusively on gardening and cultivated plants. But Euell’s introductory article reminded organic gardeners that their philosophy toward cultivated plants could and should extend to all of nature.

 

“The organic gardener’s interest in nature extends far beyond his garden fence,” Euell wrote. “Being a respecter of nature and a cooperator with her, he is, by definition, a nature-lover. But because he is involved with nature in a creative relationship, the attitude of the organically oriented person is far different from that of the aloof nature-tourist, or nature-sightseer.” Organic gardeners, Euell explained, inherently rejected the modern Western idea of “the conquest of nature.” The gardener “doesn’t consider nature an enemy to be conquered, but a friend and benefactor to be wooed in a spirit of cooperation and love….He knows that he is an integral part of nature, and he is not about to declare war on himself.”

 

During the 1960s, the conservation movement was divided into two main camps. One group focused strictly on utilitarian conservation—building gigantic dams to ensure a steady water and electricity supply to the growing megacities of the American West and clearcutting old-growth forests and replanting them with commercially valuable monocultures.

 

The other group, horrified by the destruction wrought by utilitarian conservationists, went to the opposite extreme. They pushed to set aside scenic and ecologically important land as wilderness areas, untouched by humans. They believed that all human interaction with nature was inherently destructive, and the wilderness areas became, in effect, museums. Wilderness, by definition, had to remain untouched by humans.

 

Euell Gibbons took a middle-of-the-road approach in these debates, emphasizing that not all human interactions with nature were negative or destructive. After all, Indigenous people had lived in, gardened, and managed the landscapes that preservationists were setting aside as “wilderness,” so it was certainly possible for humans to enjoy nature’s bounty in a less destructive way. “Although the organic gardener is the finest of conservationists he does not equate conservation with non-use,” Euell clarified. “While gathering these wild delicacies he doesn’t think he is making a clever raid into hostile territory, nor that he is forcing nature to contribute to him....The organic idea is not just a bag of tricks for producing better vegetables; it brings a whole new outlook on nature."

 

This new outlook on nature—that humans could work with nature in a positive way, and that their interactions with the nature world didn’t have to be inherently destructive—fit very well with the organic philosophy of working with nature. Euell Gibbons simply broadened that philosophy to include “wild” natural areas—the forests and hedgerows between the fields on most farms. And his articles helped position organic farming at the forefront of the emerging environmental movement, offering a hopeful, positive alternative to the more typical doomsday messages about pollution and destruction.

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