Wild foods a good thing

The COMMON SUNFLOWER, Hileanthus annus, look like the sun, standing tall on sturdy stalks, pointing their faces to the light. The bright yellow petals around the future seed head glow brightly at early morning sunrises. This plant was domesticated a long time ago by native peoples. To them this symbol of the sun was revered for its appearance and as food. Sunflowers are grown worldwide. They need full sun and grow best in fertile soil that is moist and well drained. The oil from the seed is used in cooking oils, as a carrier oil and nowadays to produce biodiesel. Varieties of sunflowers have been created to fill niches depending upon the desired ultimate use. Fatty acids composition has a wide range of chemical variants. Black oil sunflower seeds are meatier and have a higher oil content giving birds more nutrition and calories in every bite. Black oil seeds have thinner shells thus making it easier for birds to crack open.

Most U.S. production comes from North and South Dakota by a wide margin with billions of pounds annually. Third place is Minnesota with only 166,050,000 pounds. Other states growing this plant are Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, California and Oklahoma. Iowa is way down the list and in the big scheme of things, Iowa farmers grow it as an interesting sideline to other commodity crops.

Birds eat sunflowers in the field or at backyard feeding stations. How much do wild and migrating birds take from farm fields? One estimate by the USDA puts the number at $10,000,000 worth just in North Dakota and accounting for about half of the nation’s sunflower production. If it is that good, the birds know something to teach us.

Sunflower nutritional components of black oil seeds are 28 percent fat, 25 percent fiber, 15 percent protein with Calcium B vitamins, Iron, Vitamin E and Potassium rounding out the ingredients.

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WILD FOODS have sustained human populations for a long, long time. Compared to today where most people buy their food at a grocery store or raise a few items in the garden, the comparison in time dimensions is huge. What we enjoy and work for diligently today is vastly easier for the consumer than cave man days of hunting and gathering. But within the braincase of humans was adaptability, the process of learning what, where and how to hunt for food that might, in some cases, also want to hunt and eat you. Wild fruits, roots and fish became part of the mix. People all over the globe survived.

Lots of trials and errors over eons of time in every continental environment or fresh water or marine ecosystems lead native peoples to many food sources. Hunting was a mainstay. You either hunted or you and your family starved, it was that simple. Since starving was not a long term good thing for survival of the clan, group or tribe, collective efforts by people found ways to obtain food through more efficient means. The one-on-one stalk of a hunter with a spear, bow or lance was occasionally effective, often futile. But if they could group together, hunt as a team, effectiveness increased substantially. Team work also enabled the gathering of wild plant foods. People learned where to find these food treasures and remember the sources for future years.

American Indians knew the landscape well. Well enough that survival, though never easy, was relatively assured. If they had to migrate with herds of bison or caribou, so be it. That was the food source. Find it, kill some, eat and live another day. American Bison fit this picture very well. Nomadic tribes could gain a lot of meat protein from this species. And in addition they gained the hides to use for clothing, tepees, and bones for tools. Big animals like bison provided a lot of food for a lot of people. Smaller game could supplement the food cache. Many of these were seasonal and winter time meant lean times unless they had a way to preserve foods.

Native peoples of North American traveled and encountered others. Trading took place and information was gained and exchanged. And wars periodically broke out over the battle for natural resources. Those natural resources were the land itself that wild animals needed for their survival. If one could control the land, and thereby its wildlife, you were more or less assured of access to animals to hunt.

Other peoples found soil conditions favorable to plant seeds for the things they knew were good to eat. It was less effort by some measures to grow plant food than trying to randomly gather it. Reliability of a crop grown near where you lived meant more food stocks. Of course these early agricultural crops by today’s standards were meager, non the less they lead to more and more ways to grow things in quantities sufficient for the survival of more people. This came in very handy when it comes to enduring long cold winters.

Some might say that in 2016, hunting is not needed anymore. Modern man has domesticated livestock raised strictly for the purpose of feeding people. We grow food crops for humans and other crops to feed to beef cattle, sheep, swine or poultry. What we have done is replace the ages old hunter gatherer system with something much more reliable, economical and efficient in terms of time spent to produce.

It takes land to do this. Land itself is a natural resource that if cared for well will sustain our human populations. We have also painted ourselves into a corner whereby wild and natural wild diversity sites are mere fragments of once larger ecosystems. The tradeoffs over land and land uses is and will always be ongoing. Growing more food on a given amount of land is the situation we find ourselves in.

Recreational hunting and angling also provide food to people. To do so is part of the ingrained heritage of humans. Some pursue it with all due diligence each fall to hunt deer or other big game animals. Some folks go on fishing expeditions near or far to gather food. Either example is gathering food, to eat, to survive another day. The harvest of wild protein is the bottom line in each case. Conservation programs today rely on license sales to fish or hunt. Private conservation organizations add their fund raising efforts into the mix. Sales of sporting arms and ammunition add huge financial factors into natural resource conservation and management. The finest success stories of wildlife conservation in the world revolve around sustained well documented science based management programs.

It is estimated that in the United States and Canada, more than 15 million people partake in harvests of wild game by hunting. Thirty five million folks in the USA harvest wild fish from lakes, streams or oceans. Add up the amount of wild protein sources from hunting or fishing and it will total millions of pounds of meat. And it is good natural food, full of flavor and nutrition.

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Summertime catfish to one fish on the list of dedicated anglers. Catfish are more active in the summer, their food items are in abundance, and the time to eat is now before cold winter weather arrives. Catfish find food by smell and taste. That is why human anglers use dip baits, chicken livers, minnow or chubs, crawdads, frogs or night crawlers. Catfish are in every farm pond, area lake or stream. Summer time will find them in the upper layers of water where oxygen is sufficient. Find rocky underwater structure or log jams along rivers where catfish are lurking. When a lunker catfish strikes the hook, the battle is on. If you get the fish into a net or boat, smile big for the camera. Your are a hunter-gatherer, just in modern times.

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Next weekend, Aug. 13-14 from 7:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., a 3D archery shooting range will be open for archers. This is practice time on life-like foam targets on a wooded range. Distances are unmarked. Skill is required to place arrows in the right spot. The fee for round on the archery range is $10 for adults, and $5 for kids age 12 or less. Practice time with bow and arrow is the anticipation of another hunter-gatherer scenario as fall hunting seasons grow nearer. The location in Grundy County is at the Black Hawk Wildlife Area one-half mile north of highway 175 at Morrison. Go north on county road T53, turn left. You have arrived. Scheels is a sponsor for this event.

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For your funny bone: Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.