Wildcrafter, Artist, Writer and Publisher
Life might be a box of chocolates for some, but for Don Elzer it’s a cup of tea—and it’s wild. It’s also about a foraging plantation in the woods, paintings, sculptures and a publishing company.
Located in Lumby, Don’s Wildcraft Forest (www.wildcraftforest.com) produces artisanal herb, fruit and berry loose tea blends with ingredients gathered from his own 20-acre Wildcraft Forest Plantation, nearby private lands and 15,000 acres in the Monashee Mountains. The teas are hand-mixed and packed in limited editions at the plantation.
“I’ll be introducing about a dozen different Wildcraft Forest teas this year plus a few other products that will help to champion wildcrafting,” says Don. “People are becoming captivated with the Wildcraft Forest and I would like to see that continue because it’s a wonderful culinary adventure and wildcrafting is as much about a philosophy and a way of seeing things as it is about food, wellness and art.”
The tea blends sound like the results of foraging trips, which they are. Coyote Sleeping Mint, for example, contains wildcrafted spearmint, Ponderosa pine, clover, wild rose leaves, mullein and thimbleberry leaves.
Visitors can stop by the plantation for a $15 tour of the first growth woods, learn about the wild botanicals being harvested and the onsite ecosystem, and to hear stories about nearby Coyote Sleeping (Camel’s Hump) Mountain. The tour takes in a trail that features over 20 sculptures created by artists, schools and community groups. Complimentary tastings of wild teas are offered and there is no charge to browse the village of art studios and galleries.
Don’s own art includes landscape paintings, environmental sculpture and assemblages created from natural objects. “What I’m most interested in right now is a series of work that incorporates stories into sculptural or painted images.”
Don also publishes his own work and that of others under his imprint Wildcraft Forest Books. “I’m focusing on fiction and non-fiction but in areas of history, current issues, ideas, wildcrafting, permaculture and alternative living. I’m working at publishing 10 titles in 2013.”
Don’s past experience includes consulting for rural community development and, with the Canadian Tourism Commission, developing a BC eco-tourism strategy and a creative sector enhancement plan for the Okanagan.
“(The consulting) gave me the funds that allowed me to experiment and grow ideas in other fields of work,” he says. “I guess you could say it funded the research and development of myself. But right around the time of the Olympics it seemed that funds for rural community development seemed to dry up.”
These days Don’s life is about writing, publishing and art in the winter, and the Wildcraft Forest from spring to fall. “Of course, the work is not really defined by the seasons because it does eventually all blend together.”
Don admits it’s a challenge to make a rural living, so he takes it “one day at a time” and wears many hats.
Living in a natural area like the Monashee inspires and keeps him creative. “I think the magic of a place emerges when you are there long enough. You can get to know a place, and it gets to know you.” —Dona Sturmanis