Foraging and Forager Foundation
Sitting at my desk with my morning coffee, I look out the window at the mountains surrounding Squamish, where I live. I am trying to think of how I came to be so involved with foraging. The air is calm, and a fine mist hides the tops of the peaks. I can’t help feeling a sense of excitement and optimism for the soon approaching spring. New flowers are making their debuts out of barren garden beds and the trees are shaking off their winter slumber as their sap begins to flow.
It’s easy to forget the beauty of the place I live and to take the abundance my own backyard offers up for granted. When I get bogged down with emails and meetings, it is difficult to remember and appreciate what is going on around me. Foraging gives that back to me: getting out and being immersed in nature, seeing my food growing in the forest, and tasting the nuances that each ingredient offers up.
The Influence of Elders
When I was a child, my family used to visit my grandfather in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. It is a tiny town nestled in the boreal forest on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. My mother’s family had been farmers: a difficult path to take in a remote place in the early 20th century, and not one everyone would choose. My grandfather was very much an outdoorsman; he was in love with the forest. Every visit we made would include walks through the forest just outside of town. Being under ten for most of these visits, I wasn’t too interested in learning the names of all the herbs growing along the forest floor. Instead, I just wanted to run around and splash in the little streams snaking their way through the muskeg.
It wasn’t until this year, when I was being asked why foraging was such an important part of my life, that I realized how influential these forest walks with my grandfather really were. Now that he is gone, I finally appreciate what he was doing: he was trying to pass his knowledge on to my sister and me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, his enthusiasm sparked an interest in me that would become a driving force in my life. Through this realization I also gained a new and stronger appreciation for the wisdom of Elders and for their importance in our communities.
Looking back, I can see the source of my love of sharing my knowledge with people on plant walks of my own. I find it intoxicating when I find someone who shares my passion towards foraging.
After high school I took a summer job at the Salmon Habitat Restoration Program in my hometown, and began to build the more detailed knowledge and tools that would be necessary to start my foraging career. That summer was full of nature and it was wonderful. Every day we soaked in the sunshine and planted native trees along creeks and streams throughout the city. I took every opportunity to learn the names of plants I came across.
As soon as I began to discover all the wild edibles in the forests around the south coast of BC, I couldn’t stop myself. I had to try these new plants; I had to experience these foods for myself. At the University of British Columbia, I had the pleasure of taking a course taught by Dr. Felice Wyndham. It was she who first introduced me to ethnobotany, a term that I quickly came to realize was the perfect marriage between my two loves: plants and world cultures. It took me several years of switching into every faculty I could to finally make that discovery, but thankfully, I got there in the end.
In the Forest
One of my early ideas for how I could incorporate foraging and ethnobotany in my life (while feeding myself and keeping the lights on) was Voyageur Teas: I wanted to create a line of small batch, herbal teas from wild plants. Once I graduated, I dedicated myself to setting this up. During the spring and summer, I set out into the forest every day, often accompanied by my dad.
With our bamboo baskets, gloves, and scissors at hand, we would spend most of the day wandering through the forest picking a few leaves from each bush we came across until we had enough to make a few batches of a blend. Willow leaves quickly became our favourite, because collecting them meant we were by water and in a shady spot. The willow also makes an exceptionally flavourful tea. Each day would end by putting our wild harvest into the dehydrators, and planning where we would explore the next day.
When I was selling my teas at farmer’s markets, a lot of people were really interested in the plants themselves and how they could be used. The teas had become quite popular but I started to shift my focus to how I could help other people learn more about local plants and start their own journey into wild foods.
Birth of a Foundation
When I founded Forager Foundation in 2013, I hoped to create a space where I could engage with my passion for plants and reinvigorate a sense of identity with my heritage. I wanted to create a space where people from all different walks of life could gain a better appreciation for the edible bounty of their communities. Two and a half years on and Forager now has a community of people stretching five continents. It has been a fantastic vehicle for me to share my passion for different cultures and plants with thousands of people.
My journey with foraging didn’t start with Forager Foundation, but I hope that my continued journey will grow along with the organization and help others begin their own explorations in turn. Foraging has become such an important part of my life. Wild foods make cooking more interesting for me, and make a healthy lifestyle an easier prospect. I hope to continue this for as long as I’m able to get out in nature, and I’m grateful every day for those first seeds planted by my grandfather all those years ago.