Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 52
BY ERIC J. WALLACE | PHOTOS BYANNIE LAURA OF 621STUDIOS.COM.
Keeping His Grandparents' Knowledge and Skills Alive
And is now
operating a nineperson foraging
Jay Marion is also
passing along the
family tradition to
his own 16-year-old
Jay Marion holds
a vine of dried
grapes in Augusta
This bowl of tart,
autumn-harvested wild grapes will
soon be turned
Jay Marion mills
acorns into flour
Jay Marion spent his boyhood summers
with his maternal grandparents,
who lived deep in the Alleghany
Mountains of West Virginia.
"My grandparents lived their entire lives in the backwoods of West
Virginia," he explains. "They were
born in the late-1800s. Their families were mountain homesteaders. They'd been raised using this
knowledge to survive."
"This knowledge" being how to
read a forest for its scores of wild
and edible plants.
And so Marion, the 62-year-old
native of Verona, Virginia, came
to adulthood with much of that
"They taught me this stuff because they didn't want to see the
skills get lost," says Marion. "Personally, I look at my business as a
way of passing on that knowledge."
While he'd always loved learning and teaching others about wild
foods, prior to the mid-2000s, Marion says public interest in the activity was almost nonexistent.
Then came the publication of Michael Pollan's 2006 best-seller, "The
Omnivore's Dilemma." Advocating
for a local-foods economy, the book
helped spark a national farm-to-table revolution. With Swoope-based
farmer Joel Salatin playing Pollan's
charismatic protagonist, the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding areas
were positioned at the movement's
"In January of 2007, I heard a
guy was opening a restaurant in
Staunton, Virginia, that was going to specialize in local foods and
figured I'd give it a try," explains
That guy was executive chef
Ian Boden. The restaurant was The
Staunton Grocery-a precursor to
The Shack, which opened in January of 2014 and has since helped
Boden become a two-time semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef in America award.
Surveying the menu, Marion was
"Just about everything came