Food Systems

A Foraged Feast 2020

2020 brought with it an intensified desire for food security and for connection to our food sources. Galiano island residents tried to stay put as much as possible and we wondered how much of our food we could source on the island. Some people had time open up for growing more food and most of us wanted to improve our gardening games. Interest in foraging also peaked. At the Galiano Conservancy Association, our drive for food security dovetails with our restoration efforts, inspiring us to cultivate native plants for food and medicine and incorporating them in Forest Garden designs.

As we enter the darkest days of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on our relationships with native plants and with the land, and better understanding our interdependence with the land we live on.  It’s also a good time to express gratitude for the privilege of living on the unceded lands and water of Hul’qumi’num speaking peoples, and for the knowledge passed down through generations that we are learning from today.  That is why in 2020, for our Forest2Table blog – an annual collaboration between the Galiano Conservancy and renowned local restaurant pilgrimme – we harvested from both the Galiano Community Food Forest and the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest, and sat down with some  friends for a meal that incorporated local venison, native plants, and garden crops.  Held just prior to the November Province-wide health orders, it was a night to remember during the season of solitude to come.  

The Forest Gardens:

The Galiano Conservancy’s first Forest Garden, the Galiano Community Food Forest, is in active production and is also a great location for educational workshops and volunteer work parties. The Food Forest is the source of most of the herbs harvested for the Forest Garden Tea company and also supplies local restaurants and caterers with a wide variety of delicious, nutritious food.  As of this November, it is 5 years old! In 2019, we expanded our annual beds and planted corn, beans, and squash in the classic three sisters companion planting style. This year we were excited to add “ollas” for irrigation. Ollas are unglazed terracotta pots that are buried in the soil and filled with water.  When the soil is wet the water stays in the pot, but when the soil is dry the surface tension pulls the water out of the pot and into the soil to irrigate nearby plants. We planted squash, beans, and tobacco in the ollas bed,  yielding a successful and abundant harvest.


Michaela “planting”ollas in Food Forest


The squash grown in the olla bed became a key ingredient in this edition of the Forest 2 Table Harvest. To read more about growing more food with less water, please check out our Summer 2020 Stewardship News publication.

The GCA’s second Forest Garden, The Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest, is an ecocultural restoration project – in Hul’qumi’num, “nuts’a’maat” means “working together with one heart, and one mind.”. It was established in 2018 and is built on relationships formed during the Digital Forage project, through which members of the Galiano and Penelakut Island communities came together to share knowledge about traditional foods. The Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest offers the opportunity to learn about ethical harvesting and to grow reciprocal relationships with native plants and to learn their histories. This year, artist Sylvie Hawkes produced a guide that highlights some of the food and medicine available for harvest in each season: Nuts’a’maat Foraging Guide.


Karen Charlie reading the Nut’a’maat foraging guide (Photo by Mark Adams)

The Native Plant Harvest: 

In early November, the GCA harvest crew headed to the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest, excited to see what was abundant enough to harvest after only two years of growing. Nodding onion is thriving in the meadow beds. Here we are dividing the well established bulbs and greens.

Nodding onion harvest

Nodding onions (Q’wuxwi’uc – Allium cernuum) are an easy to grow and delicious plant to include in your garden. They like full to partial sun, good drainage, and do well in drought conditions. At first, the greens can be harvested like chives or green onions, but as the patch grows the bulbs can also be divided and enjoyed.

Springbank clover (Tkwla’i’shen – Trifolium wormskjoldii) (our first harvest!) prefers a damp environment; the patch in the Forage Forest is actually under water at this time of year. The raw, white rhizomes have a  pea-like flavour similar to bean sprouts. The trifoliate leaves and pink flowers can also be eaten raw or cooked. To harvest, loosen the soil with a garden fork from the edges of a patch and lift the plant from the soil. We also used the harvest as an opportunity to weed out competitive grasses.  This species used to be common in estuaries and intertidal zones across the coast, but has become quite rare due to coastal development.  Despite this, it seems to thrive in our nursery and in the wet areas where we’ve planted it.

Springbank clover harvest

To process, shake and rinse off the soil and separate roots from greens, then clean and untangle. The rhizomes can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried for future use. The youngest and whitest rhizomes are the most tender; older ones are best slow-cooked to soften and sweeten. Eat fresh or steam, saute, or slow cook. 

Barestem biscuitroot (Q’uxmin – Lomatium nudicaule).  Q’uxmin seeds can be enjoyed as a tea, a seasoning, or even chewed on individually. They have a celery like flavour that is reminiscent  of Lovage. They like a sunny spot and soil with good drainage.

Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is a beautiful plant with a sweet, spicy flavour. It thrives in poor soil in a sunny spot with good drainage.

The papery flowers of Pearly everlasting

Coastal Sagewort (Artemisia suksdorfii) is a strong-tasting pungent herb great for cooking with or for drinking as tea. It is often found growing near the ocean in a sunny location or on cliffsides.

Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii) makes a really delicious tea; it is a trailing native mint that has hints of eucalyptus and citrus flavours. It grows well in a sunny location or in dappled shade.

Cow Parsnip (Yaala’ – Heracleum lanatum) is known for its bold, white flower umbels and its irritating hairs.  What is less widely appreciated is that its stems, when peeled and cooked, are a tasty spring vegetable, and its seeds are an aromatic and flavourful seasoning.

And from the Food Forest: Painted mountain corn. This stunning dry corn is heartier and not as heavy a feeder as your average sweet corn. It was bred for harsh, dry climates. Its colourful kernels are packed with nutritious anthocyanins.

We also harvested potatoes, squash, and apples from the Food Forest for the project. 

Black-tailed Deer (Ha’put, Smuyuth – Odocoileus hemionus columbianus): We set aside some venison from the recent Feed the People workshop. Read more about the deer and the workshop here:

The Meal

We arrived at  pilgrimme eager to see the harvest transformed. Before we arrived Jesse McCleery and Melanie Witt began processing the painted mountain corn from the Food Forest. They shucked and ground the corn, then soaked it and treated it with lime to allow the nutrients to become more bioavailable and delicious.  This is an ancient process known as “nixtamalization,” and is practiced widely in Latin America but is much less common farther north.

Jesse and Mel formed the tortillas, fried them and topped them with Forest Garden offerings. 

Pilgrimme’s masa dough (Jesse McCleery and Melanie Witt)


The first tortilla had squash and apple and was topped with spring bank clover. The second had ground deer and potatoes and was seasoned with a finishing salt containing coastal sagewort, cow parsnip and q’uxmin. The meal was finished off with an aromatic cup of honey sweetened with pearly everlasting, yerba buena and coastal sagewort tea. 

Richard Charlie and Karen Charlie enjoying pilgrimme’s tacos made from the harvest. (Photo by Mark Adams).


Just as enchanting as the meal were the diners!  We were delighted to be joined by Karen and Richard Charlie from Penelakut Island.  Karen and Richard contributed knowledge, artwork, and teaching to help create the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest, and continue to return to teach in it and guide its growth.  They also host the annual Feed the People workshop – in fact, Richard had just returned from a successful hunt to sit down and join us.  Also attending were Deblekha Guin, who helped create the Digital Forage project that eventually inspired the creation of the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest, and Ilana Fonariov, on whose plates the meal was delivered and from whose ollas the harvest originated.   

The meal was rich with layers of flavour and meaning. Being able to share food harvested from the Millard Learning Centre land and especially from the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest with some of the same people who were involved with the original visioning of the restoration of the space was nourishing and magical.

Karen Charlie shared that she ”had a great evening dining on amazing food from pilgrimme. Many haychqas for the invite. It is a meal I will not forget. The Galiano Conservancy staff are such knowledgeable forward thinking people. Much respect for all the hard working dedicated team. I cannot say enough about work being done and future plans. Food and medicine is grown in the Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest all for life skills .” Shaa aal tin aut.   Karen Charlie

After this beautiful meal with delicious ingredients, I feel inspired to incorporate more and more native plants into my home garden. I am also looking forward to seeing all the roots, bulbs and shoots developing until the stage that we can do our next harvest! We just scratched the surface with the diversity of plants available and I am excited to further expand my palate and to see people enjoying, appreciating and caring for the beautiful native plants that grow so well where we live.

Funding for this project provided by the Victoria Foundation.