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EARTH DAY: Festival features foraged food

Those clusters of dandelions you’re thinking about spraying this year could be an ingredient in your next meal.

Gail Adrienne, executive director of Nanaimo Area Land Trust, says dandelions – once considered a scourge for homeowners – are starting to be recognized as a delicious and healthy food source. It’s also just one local ingredient chefs will showcase at this year’s fifth annual Wild Foods Festival and Earth Day Celebration.

The one-day Bowen Park food event happens Sunday (April 27), offering crowds a chance to see just how wild cooking can get.

Thirteen chefs will servDandelionse up sample dishes inspired by locally harvested wild ingredients, like stinging nettle, dandelion and salmon. There will also be information on how to forage for food, a craft and food market, music and guest speakers.

“I think it’s just a novel concept that people want to learn about ... [and] if you tasted any of the chefs’ samples last year, there’s some beautiful, unusual gourmet foods,” Adrienne said. “It’s a taste of Nanaimo, but using wild ingredients.”

The Wild Foods Festival was launched five years ago by the Nanaimo Area Land Trust, which recognized the need to spread the word about what people could forage in their backyards. People were not aware they could eat certain weeds, for example, or they’d go to NALT’s native plant nursery in Cassidy to purchase plants they considered ornamental, not edible, Adrienne said, adding this event was meant to highlight how people can grow and use wild foods.

The festival attracted 500 people in its first year and close to 1,400 by 2013. This year, organizers are warning chefs and vendors to expect even larger crowds.

Francois de Jong, chef and food program coordinator at Nanaimo Foodshare, has been planning for this event since last summer. He’s participated in every festival since its inception and said it’s not only a chance to highlight the skills of local chefs, but also to bring people together to celebrate food and become more aware of what grows in the area. Mushrooms aren’t the only thing people can harvest. There’s also “different berries that can be foraged, pine needles, miner’s lettuce – the list is bigger than I think I’m even aware of,” he said. “Even in back alleys [you can find] fennel that grows downtown and sorrel that is quite prevalent.”

He’ll be making a stinging nettle and potato soup, with a rose hip crème fraîche.

The event starts at 11 a.m. and runs until 3:30 p.m. at the Bowen Park Activity Centre. People are encouraged to attend early to get samples. Admission is $2 and free for children 10 and under. Food tickets are $1 each. Lawn bowling demonstrations, music and a craft and food market run all day.

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