media release

Green onions germinate studies

June 13, 2011

Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210;

Nicholas Chesworth
Photo on Flickr

A chance meeting with a wild onion fertilized Nicholas Chesworth’s future educational path.

The Simon Fraser University archaeology undergraduate was gathering seeds in a wooded area near Lillooet, B.C. for his department's reference collection when he stumbled upon a large field of what he recognized as nodding onion (allium cernuum), a wild species of green onion.

"I looked around and saw millions of them growing along with many other culturally important plants,” he says. “The area had been modified and First Nations people must have intentionally brought plants here to cultivate."

Chesworth was in the middle of an ancient indigenous harvesting site. The experience crystallized his decision to pursue a graduate degree in First Nations ethnobotany.

Chesworth, who grew up in Prince George, sees a disconnect in modern society between people and plant use. He wonders if global food marketing is to blame.

"If you keep people ignorant about what's growing outside their front door, you can tell them what to eat," he says, despairing over the lack of native plant-cultivation knowledge that exists. "Plants aren't sexy. Hunting and fishing is. I'd like to be a part of changing that."

While people are becoming more aware of the impact of imported foods and their issues of fair trade, chemical fertilizers, and monolithic multinational control, Chesworth looks toward First Nations’ knowledge as a source of local self-empowerment.

Recently, the Lillooet tribal council asked him to teach about native plant foods and their preparation.

Chesworth will pursue graduate studies in paleoethnobotany next year at SFU.

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