Tour teaches foragers about edible weeds

Alberta on the Plate festival celebrates local food by holding a foraging event in conjunction with a long-table dinner

ARMENA, Alta. — Jenn Doucet ventures into a wet grassy field, coaxing about a dozen foragers to join her.

The mosquitos are vicious, but the wild mint is too good to pass up. Doucet and the others pluck handfuls of the herb and smell the leaves.

“Try it,” Doucet, a herbalist, tells the others. “It tastes like spearmint and there is lots of it.”

The foragers nibble. They enjoy it and put more into their baskets.

“That was really good,” says one them, talking with her friend. “I had no idea you could find this in Alberta.”

The wild mint was one of the highlights during the Forage on the Farm event in mid-August at Grey Arrow Farm in Armena. People got to learn about edible weeds and sit down for long-table dinner featuring local food.

This is the first year that Alberta on the Plate, a dining festival that celebrates local food, held a foraging event in conjunction with a long-table dinner.

“A lot of people don’t know what else is edible out there,” said Tannis Baker, who helped organize the event and is with Food Tourism Strategies. “This really shows what’s available to people who are interested in foraging, and gives local chefs an opportunity to grow their knowledge.”

Events like these also connect consumers to farmers, she added, providing them another avenue to expand their businesses.

“It’s one more tool farms can have,” she said. “It gives places a chance to engage with consumers to talk about what they do.”

During the foraging walk, Doucet showed participants all sorts of plants that could be eaten or used as remedies, including mugwort, saskatoon berries, dandelion roots, cattails and pineapple weed.

Later in an interview, she said she has noticed more people have become interested in foraging for unconventional plants, given many are high in nutrition and can be useful.

“People are very intrigued by it,” she said. “They don’t have a clue that these plants underneath our feet can be used for our benefit. It’s eye-opening.”

She said she believes people have become less connected with nature, suggesting foraging and visiting farms can bring them closer.

“The only thing some people know about food is that it comes in a plastic bag,” she said. “It’s so important for us to look around and appreciate the beauty. The earth is where our medicine comes from.”

Before the event, Doucet did a walkthrough with farmers Andrea and Denis Forstbauer to identify edible weeds and plants on their property.

Andrea said it was a neat experience, providing them with another avenue to have people visit their farm.

“I think people love to gather over food,” she said. “It builds community around food with our local farms.”

During the tour, Andrea showed foragers the market garden, which produces food that the Forstbauers sell at farmers markets and through a community-supported agriculture program.

She picked fresh celery and greens that were later made into a salad for dinner.

“There is nothing better than fresh celery,” said Andrea, as the foragers marveled at the garden.

For dinner, the crew was greeted by chef Jade Patton of the Hart House restaurant in Camrose, Alta. He prepared Alberta beef, accompanied by local vegetables from the region.

As well, they enjoyed beer from nearby breweries and local dairy in their dessert.

“For events like this, we really try to get everyone from the region to come together,” Baker said. “We really like to see these partnerships because it grows the community and could even help build that local economy.”

Andrea said Grey Arrow Farm has been expanding every year and is always looking to host more events.

“For me, the fun of it is hosting these events. It’s something new and Camrose doesn’t have this kind of thing,” she said. “It also allows us to diversify and we want to get people excited about what we grow.”

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