Photography byCharlotte Logan, Jessica Dolan, and Rich Holschuh
Sharing stories with one another is a way of making home; learning and sharing plant practices can connect us within one another, and can also help each person come home to oneself, grounding each of us within the landscapes where we live. My name is Jessica Dolan, and I’m an ethnobotanist and environmental anthropologist who has been working with North American Indigenous communities since 2007. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a dream of being in the ground looking up at carrots and turnips growing in a garden above me. I took that as a message that it was time to write to my daughter about the very first plants that I learned as a child. While pregnant, I daydreamed of teaching her about plants, visiting them in their homes, and exploring the gifts and contours of land and water in Vermont together. So, I wrote out my memories of the first plants I learned as a girl in Vermont. Ethnobiologists have studied children’s acquisition of plant knowledge across cultures (see, for example, Hunn 2002). In this piece, I share some of the very first plants I learned as a child, and how and where I learned them; my acquisition of plant knowledge growing up in Vermont is reflective of and was situated within an outdoors and landscape-based, rural culture of Vermont children in the 1980s.
As an amateur ethnobotanist I’m always looking for ways to live out my values and spur incremental change in behavior. I live in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., in Loudoun County, which has been rapidly undergoing suburbanization for decades. I grew up on a farm here, so this change is hard to watch, but my family is also a part of the process; we just moved here a little earlier than most.