The Nanaimo & Area Land Trust held its 3rd annual Wild Foods Festival last Sunday at Bowen Park as a part of Nanaimo’s Earth Day celebrations. The festival drew our attention as it featured local chefs preparing savoury snacks and desserts with wild edible plants. It was an easy sell for us as one can never really go wrong when surrounded by copious amounts of food.
As we approached the festivities honking our horn erratically at the minivan attempting to steal our parking spot, our minds conjured up images of endless salad bars, hippies and patchouli. We were instead met with an array of stalls manned by local market vendors, restaurants and community groups. Everyone from students to professionals, hipsters, crunchy granola types, vendors and food enthusiasts alike came out to sample and learn about edible wild plants. We had also come to the realization that they all had a good head start on us in the eating department and that there was some serious catching up to do. We opted out of the guided edible plants walk and headed straight for the food…naturally!
The wide range of locally produced food products was a pleasant surprise. Local farmers sold a variety of seasonal produce, plants and seeds along with welcome advice on how to plant, grow and prepare them. As the twang of the live band played in the background, we visited practically every food stand sampling such delights as stinging nettle and blackberry smoothies, miner’s lettuce salads and no-bake blueberry cheesecakes. We weren’t even sure what we were eating half the time. All we knew is that we wanted it in our bellies and for the most part, was quite tasty. The Cowichan Pasta stall served up fresh batches of their home-made stinging nettle fettuccine which was an obvious hit judging by the long lines. Other notables included Salish Sea Salts and their wonderfully flavoured locally harvested sea salts, exquisite hand-crafted maple cutting boards by Legacy Wood Crafts and Nanaimo Poultry Co-op’s chicken coup display. Guest speaker Nick Versteeg, producer of such documentaries as Island on the Edge and Food Security, It’s in Your Hands, also spoke on the growing issue of food security on Vancouver Island and the importance of growing and producing our own food as the majority of it is imported.
Another highlight of the festival was sitting in on live cooking demonstrations. Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm prepared Smoked Albacore Tuna with Wild Foraged Greens and Oxeye Daisy Vinaigrette. We especially enjoyed how he tortured his audience by passing around samples of ingredients, allowing us to experience each with all of the senses except taste. The Albacore tuna which was infused in Bigleaf Maple syrup (the Pacific cousin of its well-known Eastern counterpart) whose intoxicating smoky aroma left an unmistakable trail of drool streaming down our faces. The audience overcome with hunger charged the stage at the end of the demonstration in order to snag a precious bite of this enticing plate.
If we walked away with anything from the Wild Foods Festival other than our armfuls of plants, seeds and our protruding stomachs it was with the simple message that in a world dominated by supermarkets and imported produce, it is still possible to include wild foods into your diet, with delicious results! We plan on planting our very own garden this spring with the plants and seeds we purchased at this year’s festival. Will we succeed? You’ll have to stick around to find out…stay tuned!