Osha Breez discovered many years ago that it wasn't just the fruits and vegetables in her garden that were edible.
As she meandered through the rows of plants in her Bingen backyard, Breez plucked leaves off various stalks and popped them in her mouth.
"This is one of the six most densely mineral-packed greens in the world," she confided, munching on a leaf tugged off a Lamb's Quarters plant.
An experienced teacher, Breez gives regular classes on various aspects of gardening. One of her favorite topics is year-round edibles, and not just the traditional kind. In fact, she began teaching a Hood River Community Education class on that very subject last fall.
"I have 30 varieties of fruit, at least," said Breeze, whose front gates are entwined with apple, pear and cherry branches, with kiwi trees nearby. "I also have six varieties of tomatoes, kale, sunflowers, and a lot of other stuff.
"This is unusual," she said, gesturing at an Oka plant. "It's a distant cousin to the potato. It's pink and about the size of a half dollar, and is a staple in the Andes."
Breez's devotion to her garden isn't surprising, since she is on a raw plant diet -- there is no stove to be found in her home.
Breez spent 15 years as a movement therapist, and has worked as a midwife, teacher, performer and visual artist. She has practiced yoga and edible gardening for 30 years, is the mother of four, and teaches and performs African marimba music with her husband, Michael.
"My husband helps tremendously, and has a lot of experience with tools," Breez said, crediting Michael for his contributions to her gardening endeavors. "We collaborate on design and think things through."
Breeze's garden surrounds her house, with a 10-by-40 foot plot in the front yard and a 40-by-50 foot garden in the back.
"My first garden was smaller than this table," said Breez as she rested on a picnic bench behind her house. "It was just a small patch of mud in Texas."
Breez lived in and outside of Ft. Worth at different times, and her first gardening endeavor consisted of okra and tomatoes at age 18.
"I've always loved plants," said Breez. "As a child I spent an enormous amount of time outdoors. I loved drawing plants, and would take a sketch pad out in the woods. I felt I have developed a relationship with plants over the years by simply hanging out. I have an empathic relationship with them."
In her 20s, Breez grew organic papayas on a seven-acre farm in Hawaii, and began growing all her own veggies and fruits.
"I always plant a garden wherever I live, whether I stay long or not," she said.
Breez has lived in Bingen for the last two and a half years.
"We really liked the environment here, and were ready for a change. We've lived in the Northwest for a long time, and the location was good for us business-wise," she said.
At the moment, Breez is studying with a Portland-area expert in wild foods.
"I had one class, and now I want to study a lot," said Breez. "After studying wild foods, weeding becomes harvesting. Now that I know better, I let my garden seed and flower."
Breez doesn't weed much for weeding's sake, other than to remove some morning glories from her front yard. She lets other plants grow free, too, and tries to let at least one of every variety of fruit flower when harvest is done, which helps with pollination and aesthetics.
"I plant few flowers just as flowers," said Breez. "I use ones that follow naturally from veggies. Although I do have some nice cosmos planted."
Breez stressed that her garden was all organic, and always had been.
"The only time doing that was extremely challenging was with the papayas in Hawaii, because of the monoculturing -- it's not natural," she said, referring to the uniformity of her crop. "If you do that in anything -- business, housing, etc. -- it's so adverse to nature that it's not sustainable.
"I talk about that a lot when I teach gardening," she continued. "One of the things I think is hardest to understand about my viewpoint is that nature is chaos. If you try to eliminate chaos, you're working against the principles inherent in nature."
Letting her garden take control allows Breez to relax a bit and think about the future.
"I don't like to spend energy on things unnecessarily. To me, it's about creating more fun and freedom, not new projects," said Breez. "I'm really interested in having lots of free to time hang out and study permaculture -- the inner relation of elements in an environment, and how to utilize that in an effective and efficient way."
Breez will also continue to be generous with the fruits of her labor -- she donates considerable portions of food to neighbors, food banks and the White Salmon senior center.
She had to think a bit to sum up her love of gardening.
"For most people, eating is the closest that they come to nature each day," Breez said. "Growing the food that we eat takes me into that circle more deeply, and that's probably my favorite aspect of gardening. I love to eat, and having the highest quality food available is a high priority."
Breez will offer a three week "Raw Support" food preparation class from Sept. 9-30, and begins her "Year-round Gardening" Community Education class on Oct. 10. A one-night raw food introduction class will be given on Nov. 7, and from Feb. 3-10 next year Breez will teach a raw foods class with her husband in Hawaii. For more information on dates, locations and prices for any of these classes, contact Breez at (509) 493-8353.
"Gardening means jumping into the cycle of nature," said Breez. "It helps me remember my place in the world, as part of nature, and not a dominant force."