Elona Underwood joined the Little White Salmon Biodiversity Reserve in May 2016 as a farm manager after searching for a farm outside Portland to work on herbalism and provide local food.
The reserve is a learning watershed and serves as a model for mutually beneficial management practices to be a steward of a critical habitat and provide land and facilities for education and research in sustainable forestry, energy and agriculture.
“It has been a really interesting experience and big learning curve,” she wrote in an email interview.
Born in the Soviet Union, Underwood moved to Chicago at four years old in hopes of being a veterinarian, farmer and chef. She chose to pursue a career as a chef.
“I've always followed my intuition on what would bring me the most joy,” she wrote. “After working in the industry for a few years, I saved up some cash and traveled for 8 months throughout Central and South America. There, I came face to face with the consequences of global capitalism and decided that in good conscience I couldn't return to the restaurant industry and do work in a good way without being a part of the production process.”
Underwood then moved to British Columbia where she farmed on various land projects and became involved with Indigenous Sovereignty issues and reconstructing local food sheds. She moved to Portland out of curiosity for its reputation as a hub of eating local and took part in the Occupy movement bringing her knowledge of the bio-regional narrative from Dawn Morrison of the Indigenous Food Systems Network.
“From 2011 - 2016, my focus has been on working with other self-declared Cascadians who wish to empower their communities to develop local resilience,” she wrote.
Underwood published a zine titled ‘Welcome to Cascadia’ which provided a guide to local organizations meant to help detach from global industrial capitalism.
“I also advocated for the education and action needing to happen in Cascadian circles around supporting Indigenous communities to have the space and resources to restore their cultures,” she wrote. “Additionally, restoring my own ancestral cultural traditions has been an important thread in my maturation, which is why I am currently focusing on herbalism and food preservation.”
“My main mission, currently, is to align our food habits with our medicinal needs and name the local plants that can straddle both spheres. "Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food" (Hippocrates). I'd add "let thy local food be thy medicine,”” she wrote.
Underwood takes an hour every morning to walk the goats for a morning browse and studies herbalism as a use in medicine.
“I'm very much interested in recontexualizing medicine in my life, and to understand what is being provided to me by the landscape,” she wrote.
“I think that as bioregionalists, or place-based action-oriented thinkers, we really need to look to all the work that's been done, that isn't available through a google search,” she wrote. “Planet Drum, a clearinghouse of bioregional information started by Peter Berg is a really important resource for us and few of the newer folks in the movement are aware of its richness. They're currently working on getting their archives up and I know that Cascadia Now! has archived much of the resources that were hiding in a garage in Olympia. Let's make sure we don't reinvent the wheel where it's not necessary and save our energy for the forge.”