I meet Dan Farella as I come to attend a plant walk with him in Eatontown, NJ. In his comfortable-looking free-flowing cottons and long dreadlocks, he seems very much at ease and at home among all of the wonderful greenery surrounding us, almost being an extension to the tree we are sitting under. Behind his back is a sizable forager basket with a curious specimen selection, dried mushrooms, paw paws, seeds, herbs, all in attendance.
A few minutes later, he is surrounded by a bunch of light-bulb youngsters, listening in utter amusement to captivating stories on common dirt and the six inches of soil out of which all of our sustainment comes; about fruit pits and seeds being the essential currency of the future; about the irony of recycling and the amounts of fossil fuel it takes to recycle a glass bottle; about the function and importance of the ‘weeds’ root systems in irrigating the soil for nearby plants. Dan is totally absorbed, in the blissful state of fun and calmness, satisfying natural curiosity of his listeners’ inquisitive minds, making jokes in the process.
Gradually, the focus shifts to medicinal mushrooms, herbs, and wild edibles. As we examine the fragrant contents of Dan’s basket, the recurring thought keeps popping into my head “I didn’t know one can eat that.” Next, the magic paw paws come out, and I catch myself drooling over the delicious native fruit, musing at my ignorance of not suspecting of its existence before.
While I listen to this man unfolding the wonder-world of greenery in front of us and observe him bending the boughs of trees and bushes with natural gentleness and gratitude, I make my re-acquaintance with the plants I loved as a child, wondering how disconnected I am in my everyday life from these direct experiences and creative interaction with Nature. It seems that almost everything that surrounds us has some culinary or medicinal application. How many of us nowadays use plantain leaves, so common under our feet, as a first aid for scraped knees and insect bites; yarrow, with its powerful astringent properties, to stop bleeding; jewelweed to relieve a poison ivy rash. Back in the day when I was a kid, we did that all the time.
Over an hour passes, yet we barely travel a few hundred feet. What I expected to be a trekking expedition into the forest, ended up being a very informative, eye-opening gathering in the middle of a developed park, listening to a man with this magical capacity of experiencing the world around him from the perspective of the things growing around, seeing the universe’s workings in a single leaf or a flower.
Dan’s path is far from traditional. His knowledge and understanding of plants, their medicinal qualities and nutritional values and their role in nature is extraordinary. His work and visions are inspiring and attract conscious people from all over. Currently, Dan is teaching multiple classes and workshops on plants, edibles, medicine making, foraging, while also working on various permaculture and sustainability projects. If you would like to learn more about Dan’s work or attend any of his classes or workshops, please visit his website: www.returntonature.us
A mom of two and resident of Holmdel