Foraging is the hunting of natural food resources and it can include the natural animals of an ecosystem or its plant life. While most people look on foraging in a positive light there has to be a balance as over harvesting in environmentally sensitive areas can endanger certain breeds and species. Vancouver Island’s wilderness setting has provided the ideal location for foragers to survive. The natural forests provide numerous sources of plants, fungi, fruits, insects, fish and animals for man to collect and survive off. There are some back packing companies that offer tours and guides so that people can go and explore the wilderness, and whilst touring they will be eating from the land. Obviously for the uninitiated the first experience of foraging has to be tuition based, as it is imperative that the right species can be identified. One of the most popular foods to be foraged are mushrooms, yet some mushroom are hallucinogenic, whilst others are plain poisonous. The side effects can be liver failure and possible death so any adventurer first ventures into being a forager must be done with caution, and if they are guided by an expert that is even better.
Nature Experience run by Randy Carter organizes tours around Cape Scott, Carmanagh, and Strathcona and part of the tours is the education of the hikers into foraging. Many wild plants are identified and used for the hikers to consume. There are local businesses on the Island that have succeeded as a result of foraging. Eric Whitehead of Untamed Feast employs 10 people in collecting wild morel mushrooms and selling them to restaurants. He grew up in the wilderness near Kleena Kleene and his family survived from foraging and hunting wild game. His company has an annual yield of 10,000 pounds of fresh mushrooms which equates to 1,000 pounds when the mushrooms are dried. His company has even diversified to collect other types of mushrooms, plus other produce such as nettles. The Stone House Inn in Cowichan Valley is only open for three nights of the week. It is a restaurant without a written menu as whatever is foraged will be part of the 5 courses that are produced. Local meats are collected from local farms and there is a small garden to produce some vegetables. The really beauty of the food however, comes from owner Sinclair Philip’s ability to match the wild seasonal produce such as trailing blackberry, evergreen huckleberry and wild sorrel together, to produce the mouth-watering dishes. Foraging can take different forms as is the case with the Andrew Shepherd’s sea salt industry in Cobble Hill. In order to get the highest quality of salt, the company ensure that the water is pumped out of the ocean at high tide.
The power in boiling the sea water down comes from a converted steam boiler that operates from recycled vegetable oil purchased from local restaurants. This adds to the “green theme” of the operation. The high quality salt is now sold in the rest of Canada and now parts of the United States. Prior to the Island being colonized with people from Europe the local indigenous population survived for centuries by foraging from the land. It now appears rather ironic that in the fullness of time there is now a growing trend to once more harvesting the produce that the natural environment produces on a daily, seasonal and yearly cycle.