The day the shops closed. A food forager’s journey. Day 4

I wake up with compost on my mind! Big piles of leafs and branches feeding the trillions of soldiers fighting for life to thrive. I don’t think of breakfast, new cooking techniques or flavour combos, I have rotting leaves running around my brain. To me, compost represents life, it’s the meeting point of life ending and beginning. But strictly speaking even that isn’t true, life forms transition in a compost heap, but life itself is ongoing and eternal.

mohawk duck on ricefield
By eating slugs and aquatic weeds, pooping on the fields and providing eggs, ducks make a sustainable part of the rice production cycle of Bali

I quickly scribble down these words before heading out onto the land:

Look at a rain forest, without any digging or spraying, she is the most luscious and fruitful expression of Mother Nature. I’ve spent the last 3 years observing her, in an attempt to understand her, and translate that wisdom into gardening. I still have lots to learn, but here is one thing I now understand:
When you have a garden, or even a few pots on a balcony, you become the master of trillions of employees. Birds, lizards, slugs, insects, worms, mites and microbes, they work day and night to create fertility, therefore, they are the ones feeding us.
These guys need trees, all of them. The birds will live there, and feed on the rest. The rest will feed on the leaves and will eventually eat the birds. This is a basic example of one of the many perfect cycles in nature. Take away the trees, or pollute the land, and you break the cycle, which will ultimately destroy your soil and with that your food supply.
Only a fool would spray their land with substances that kill their employees. I wish agricultural scientists would spend more time in nature. Why waste time in a lab, trying to ‘invent’ new crops to save people from starvation? The solutions are not in a lab, but rather out in Nature, where we have the power and ability to restore the cycles that we’ve been breaking at ever increasing speed.

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An example of a garden compost bed which I created with trimmings from the jungle below. In a week or 2 my trillions of employees will turn this into a fertile plot!
I spend a few hours working on the steep side of one of the pieces of land I’m currently leasing for food production. It runs along the lower side of a ridge, and closer to the river the land receives little light and lots of moisture therefore it quickly turns into dense jungle. Competition for light is fierce so the vegetation you find there are either very large juicy leaves or cheeky vines that like to crawl and strangle other plants to get to the light. I start slashing some of the new growth in order to allow the trees space to develop, I proceed to carry this green goodness to higher parts of the land where it makes good mulch for the garden beds, feeding the the crops of the future.

Comfort Creatures

I walk back into the village to grab some seeds where I run into Pak Dewi. He’s a 72 year old man who’s children all moved to the city. He recently leased a piece of established food forest to me as his children need the money to build a house. He has a concerned look on his face and shares that he spotted a ripe rack of bananas and some papayas, all are at risk of being eaten by bats. It’s 9 AM by now so this announcement rings a perfect breakfast bell. 5 minutes later I find myself on the other side of the ridge poking papayas with a really long bamboo stick, with my newly adopted grandfather Pak Dewi. I grab a papaya from the ground and plant my sweaty red face into it. I take a selfie, covering my phone in papaya juice. I’m itchy, muddy, sweaty and ever so slightly uncomfortable. A far cry from the range of yoga goddess Facebook post depictions of Man living in harmony with Nature. I’m a believer, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that spending prolonged time in nature had me understand why we invented things like lounge chairs, bathtubs and neck pillows.

On my way back through the village I barter 1 papaya for 3 ducks eggs at the shack of the local duck herder. Not strictly foraged by myself but I’ve really been enjoying these high protein nuggets of gold. Lunch is simple. Grated pumpkin, coconut and wild coriander pressed into a small baking tin. I create 3 ditches in the mixture into which I crack the duck eggs. I season the lot with salt and coconut oil and bake in a low oven for 15 minutes. Served with some of that luscious char grilled pumpkin and sprouted mung beans, it makes a filling lunch.

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Pumpkin and wild coriander baked duck eggs for lunch
Pumpkin is native to South America but boy are we blessed with this dominant ground filler crawling around Indonesia’s jungle. Once a pile of rich soil gives her a head start, she quite happily fills the open gaps in the forest, covering invasive weeds with her large leaves, pricking her little side roots at any given occasion and birthing hefty pumpkins left and right. We are at peak season so at dinner time I gratefully have another culinary adventure with her.

 

 

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Slices of galangal, coconut, corn, tomato, lemon grass, lime leaves, chilli, sweet potato, and pumpkin, both the fruits and some of the tender young shoots make a rich, sweet Tom Yum Soup. Finished off with tons of lime juice and freshly chopped wild coriander.  

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