Every year for over 30 years, more than 1,200 students venture into the New Jersey pine barrens at the legendary Tracker School to learn wilderness survival and nature skills, camp and harvest plants on the school’s 300 acres of wooded land. I interviewed lead instructor Tom Brown III, a.k.a. T3, to find out how the Tracker School has managed the land so that it could continue to offer an abundance of the plant materials their students use year after year in classes.
And I wanted to know what their wisdom could teach city-dwelling wildcrafters about caretaking in the urban landscape.
Here are some highlights:
* Collective Responsibility
“Caretaking has to be done on a collective level,” T3 said. “If everyone’s on the same page, and everybody has the same information, it can be much more effective.”
T3 explained that the school employs only one-third of its property for classes each year and leaves the rest to recuperate. Instructors help the resting land along by bringing in debris layers and clearing paths for deer and other wildlife.
“One of our firm beliefs is that we are put on the Earth to caretake the Earth. Research is hugely important,” T3 said. “This is the age of the internet, and there’s tons of field guides out there. Within a few hours of study anywhere in the world, you can get a good idea of what your [land] is supposed to look like. Then you can go out into your area and make determinations by what you see.”
Tracker School students are taught to remove oak before pine, because oak grows faster. They also learn to recognize non-native species and remove them to keep the ecosystem in balance.
* Honoring the Non-Humans
“I never take more than a third of a plant population in a specific area. People tend to forget that there’s other [creatures] out there that use these plants, whether they’re birds or other animals, and you want to leave some for them as well,” T3 said.
“Something I always do, no matter what I’m harvesting, is ask permission,” T3 added. “Whatever it is I’m taking, even if it’s just a stick on the ground, is a brother or sister of mine. I want to ask permission, because I was put here to do things in a good way.”
“At Tracker School we talk about the razor’s edge: Living this earth-based, nature-based lifestyle, but still having to exist in modern society. As much as I would like to live in the woods, I know that by doing that I would be being selfish. There have to be warriors out there leading people back to the Earth,” T3 said. T3 is the son of Tom Brown, Jr., the renowned tracker, teacher, and author of more than a dozen books. You can read T3’s new blog here.