Erica tells her stories
Erica Wohldmann (EatingLA, HomeMade1616) tells her stories
As far back as I can remember, my mom, having grown up on a farm, grew herbs and vegetables for my sisters and I. Sometimes she’d take us out on walks and forage greens from the ground, clovers and mustards, and slip them into our mouths. Plants shaped my childhood and built within me a deep connection to nature.
During graduate school, I started foraging mushrooms and berries in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It felt like treasure hunting, and I seemed to have an eye for edibles. Slowly, I began to study more empirically the impacts of our food choices on health, social justice, and the environment. I realized my connection to nature through my love for edible and medicinal plants could have the potential to heal a lot of the problems we’ve created – we protect what we love – so I started working towards teaching people to love fresh food, which is pretty simple since, well, food is required to maintain life.
To me, coming together around food feels innately rewarding. Whether it’s teaching people how to brew wild-harvested herbal beer that helps the medicine go down with joy, sharing food I urban foraged from the grocery store dumpster, or snacking with my students while pulling weeds from our campus community garden, I’m filled with the sense that my mission is being carried out.
Chef Stefano and Andre
Stefano and I met through my dear friend and fellow-forager, Andre Kohler, who used to bring me into La Botte for meals that he “bought” with wild mushrooms. Sometimes, Andre was too busy to deliver, and he’d ask me to forage for him. I’d watch Stefano in the kitchen during my visits, gleaning as much as I could, and for about a week I volunteered in the kitchen trading my time for cooking classes. What Stefano does in the kitchen is an art form that he has clearly spent years mastering.
Earlier this year just after returning from a 6-month trip, during which time Andre and I lived in the forests of 16 states and foraged all of our food, I asked Stefano if he was interested in working on a recipe book. I’d already started crafting recipes for a book I hoped to publish that included many of the foraged meals Andre and I made as well as our Telluride Mushroom Festival Cook-Off award-winning recipe of hawk’s wing mushroom pâté and acorn flour crackers.
Inspired by the San Francisco underground market, I shared my vision to create such a market in Venice, and with a few amazing friends, pulled off several very successful Venice Harvest Xchange events. The VHX events provided an opportunity for local food growers, foragers, and producers to trade and sell their products with our community. But I wasn’t quite able to capture the true community spirit I was longing for with the VHX. It felt like a few of us were, essentially, hosting a gathering that shifted into a party FOR our community rather than WITH our community. The idea for EatingLA came out of a discussion with one of the other organizers, Jason Keehn, who helped produce the first EatingLA: Food Forum and Fare.
All EatingLA co-producers (Robert Mozejewski, D’Miller, and John Quigley, as well as Jason and I) are passionate environmentalists who are devoted to consciously growing the local, sustainable food movement in Los Angeles. We have brought together prominent food leaders and community members who are action-oriented in hopes of creating a plan for a closed-loop food system that has the potential to feed the city with food grown and harvested from within the city. At the forum, we’re gathering input from experts, taking successful models and trying to apply them on a larger scale, and seeking the wisdon from all attendees. The outdoor market will feature some of our favorite cottage and artisanal food makers, and the Master Food Preservers will offer demonstrations on food preservation techniques. I hope the market will hold the spirit of the VHX community events while having a bit more focus and intention.
These events are about supporting and creating a healthy and conscious community.
HomeMade1616 (click ti view website)
While traveling in the forest on my 6-month foraging adventure, I woke up from a dream that I created a website called Homemade1616.com. Shortly after, I learned that AB1616, the California Homemade Food Act, which allows home cooks to make and sell food right from their own kitchens, had passed. My friend, Richard Busby, a computer programmer, literally turned my dream into a reality.
Naturally, being community-oriented, I wanted to offer a venue for new artisanal food makers to sell their products. This was the next VHX, gone digital. The website is an online e-commerce platform where sellers can create virtual storefronts to sell their cottage and artisanal foods and food-related products. But, to truly create community, I believe you have to do more than just support the local economy. You have to give back to those who are up-and-coming once you become successful. So, to this end, Homemade1616 donates 10% of all transaction fees to local food-related nonprofit organizations and we hope to start a micro-lending program very soon to help people grow their local food businesses.
We want to provide a space where buyers and sellers of food can get to know each other. Voting with your fork is a revolutionary act.
Gosh, I haven’t even finished my first EatingLA event and you’re already asking what’s next? Okay, I’ve got some plans. I’m going to take Homemade1616 all over the country. Why should everything good be stuck here in California? Same goes for EatingLA. How about EatingNYC or EatingSTL? I’m working on large-scale social change—serving as a spark to awaken the realization that we must take our food system out of the hands of Corporate America and put it back into our own hands. Only when we love, will we protect.