By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
Byron Alexander and Jasmine Jesso are a couple whose passion for the earth can be seen not only in their respect for the land, but in their desire to share what they’ve learned with those around them.
Operating as Newfoundland Naturals, they describe themselves as foragers who focus on edible and medicinal plants and fungi. Their journey began about two years ago and they continue to learn as much as they can each day. Jesso said they can spend up to a couple of hours a day just doing research.
“Usually when we go out and we’re on our little adventure, and we see a plant we haven’t seen before, it’s almost like it’s calling to us, like it wants us to come over and check it out. So we’ll go over to that plant and we’ll study it, take a piece home, and do some research on it. After we know it’s a good edible or a good medicinal plant we will then try to use it, so then we create a relationship with that plant and get to know it, and that’s how we remember it.”
Alexander said the path to self-sustainability has always been a goal for him and, as things fell into place, he could tell this was their calling.
“People ask sometimes about going out, especially with the natural medicines. I say listen, the only way I can explain it is like a salmon going up a river. A salmon, I’m sure, doesn’t know why it’s going up the river. It just has to go up that river, and that’s what it’s like for us every day. That’s all we do. We go out and we forage and in the wintertime we do research for the summer.”
Alexander and Jesso said that living in Newfoundland, an island where food develops on its own yields food with a higher nutritional value, offering major benefits to those who choose to eat it.
“Honestly at first I didn’t think we could do this; for years I really didn’t. I thought there was no way anybody could live off of just natural foods, but you know what – it’s a benefit to the maximum degree for us,” said Alexander. “In the summertime we preserve everything. So we get enough bounty through the summer to take us through the winter easily. In Newfoundland it is absolutely fantastic.”
The health benefits to natural eating are considerable and can include everything from removing brain fog to increasing spiritual connections to the earth.
“Everything we need is always all around us. The abundance that’s around us in Newfoundland is astronomically mind-blowing and everything is antibacterial and antiviral, from dandelions to mushrooms to chaga,” said Alexander. “It truly is body, mind, spirit. It’s all connected and by eating these foods it helps us spiritually. Most people would never think that.”
Jesso said the most important thing to remember, especially when first starting out, is to harvest sustainably.
“A lot of people don’t know how to harvest or forage or are going out for the first time. We understand it’s exciting and you want to take everything, but you just can’t do that because then you won’t have anything for your future.”
Jesso said it is one thing to have knowledge on plants and mushrooms, but it’s completely different to live it, experience it, and have a relationship with it as you use it on a daily basis and reap all of its benefits. She said if it’s a change you wish to make in your own life, that starting slow is the key.
“It’s not a drastic thing, but you definitely want to do it gradually so you don’t get stomach upset and stuff like that where you are introducing things into your body that your body isn’t used to. You don’t want it (your body) to reject it.”
Their motto is to leave everything better than when they found it.
“Every time we come back, we will come back with a bag of garbage or something. That’s always our main goal – to leave it better than we found it,” said Alexander.
Alexander said the hardest part of delving into a self-sustaining way of living was transitioning from working in a monetary lifestyle, but it was a decision neither regret.
“We are working. We are working for ourselves. Instead of working for somebody and going out buying food, we’re working to go get our food. Instead of working for somebody, again, to pay our heat bill, we go cut our own wood. We’re cutting out about 90 per cent of that middleman off our costs.”
Aside from becoming 100 per cent self-sustaining, the goal at Newfoundland Naturals is to venture into eco-tourism. The pair are currently working with author Lilly White to build a website, and they have a plan to collaborate with White on a spiritual retreat in Newfoundland over the summer if pandemic restrictions allow. They also plan to host workshops teaching others how they prepare their food, plant their food, and compost it.
“We’d like to be able to start something where we take people out one on one and actually show people everything for themselves and explain it to them,” said Alexander.
Jesso said this journey has given them the chance to connect with themselves and the world around them in a way neither of them had accomplished before.
“We are living in a society where everything is moving so fast and we’re always in a rush, so we don’t have time to slow down and see what’s actually in front of us. So when you do slow down and see what’s in front of you, the amount of beauty around us gives you more appreciation for where we live.”