Reflections on Food Forester Richard Walker

By July 15, 2013Food Forestry
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May 28, 2013
By Joshua Wagler

As I reflect on the weekend, one word returns to me. This word is Mastery. When I first met Richard before class began, he was gently soft-spoken and amiable, without the slightest pretense or ego. When he stood before the class and began to speak, I witnessed a force of nature being unleashed. I have had the pleasure of many fine teachers, and many great instructors in the Permaculture world, but I had not yet experienced the depth of experience that Richard brought forth. The moment he began to speak, I knew that I could not possibly be prepared for what would follow.

“I am only interested in Excellence,” he declared. “We create a Food Forest with High Intent, and move forward with Skillful Execution. Skillful Execution; this is the fun part.” After revealing some truly disturbing facts about the need for Food Forestry, he explained why he became involved in Food Forestry. He decided he would not create livelihood from anything that damages anything else; “All of our future lays in the 6 inches of soil on top of the Earth.” Anchored firmly in reality, he returned to the notion of Excellence. “Results are what count. Our aim is excellence. High nutrient density. Excellence in food results in excellent thoughts.” As the weekend progressed, it became clearly evident that this is a man who practices what he preaches.

When we meet a Master of any craft, it forces us to contemplate the very nature of Mastery itself. We consider the countless hours of inquiry, experimentation, research, learning, and dedication. We consider the driving force behind such effort; we question the “why”. Richard made a decision to never create livelihood from anything that damages anything else. This compassionate commitment, coupled with his desire for excellence, has created a potent combination. Further fueling his passion is an absolute love for plants. He has a communicable passion for the plant kingdom that boils over as longingly recounts his favourite mulberry varieties, and vividly describes luscious, juicy Asian pears that burst in your mouth trickling down to, and off your elbow. As a Master Herbalist and Food Forester with over 30 years experience, Richard has a depth of knowledge that could have only been created through a commitment to compassion, excellence, and to the plants themselves.

What I appreciate most about Richard, is that his commitment to excellence extends to his teaching as well. He gives only the very best, tested and fine-tuned information created through his own personal experience. “I have an extremely high-standard to fruit. If they aren’t absolutely delicious, high-yield, with high-density nutrients, they are not in my garden. If they aren’t producing, I have no problem removing them. My space is too valuable.” He refuses to pass on information that he has only read about in a book, and cites this as one of the major issues of literature. Many mistakes have been written and repeated in books by authors who have never tested what they are writing about. While others may have “written the books” about Food Forestry, Richard Walker has walked the talked and seen a food forest grow to maturation. In creating Dragon’s Eye Nursery in Grand Forks, Richard Walker fed his family, supported two businesses, and created one of the most important genetic banks in Canada.

There is no substitute for experience, and Richard Walker brings more than anyone else I have encountered on this path as of yet. This experience allows him to speak and deliver his information with incredible authority, yet he is the first to admit when he does not know an answer, and genuinely looks to his students as a source of wisdom. On very first evening together Richard introduced Food Forestry by stating, “This is design for the future… what I refer to as ‘Gardening For 1000 Years”. This weekend with Walker has been among the most profound I have ever experienced, and his approach has forced me to consider the entire trajectory of my life. When one reaches Mastery, what follows is a desire to pass on the wisdom, to leave a legacy behind. While he would be the first to admit that the work is never done, Richard Walker is well on his way to leaving behind a legacy of regeneration and health upon this planet. Listening to Richard speak has been a true gift, and one of my favourite gems of Walker’s wisdom is, “Nutrition is more than just food; we need nourishment for the soul.” This weekend workshop has been about more than just building a skill-set, a recipe for success, or a map of the future. It has exceeded this and more; a weekend with Richard Walker is nourishment for the soul.

Joshua Wagler holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and a Permaculture Design Certificate from Permaculture BC. He lives, and explores his outer and inner worlds in Victoria, BC with humble respect. He is hold a board position for Friends of Spring Ridge Commons, Canada’s oldest public food forest; is an avid writer, landscaper and student of life.

To learn more about Richard Walker click here.