In the Hul’qumi’num language, nuts’a’maat means ‘working together with one heart, one mind‘.
The Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest is an ecocultural restoration project that reimagines the relationships we can have with damaged ecologies and with one another as we work together on the land. It is a shared space where we are restoring and caring for an indigenous forest ecosystem that provides us with a diversity of important foods and medicines.
The project lives within the unceded, asserted, and shared territory of the Penelakut, Lamalcha, Hwlitsum, and other Hul’qumi’num speaking peoples, as well as the ceded territory of the Tsawwassen First Nation. It is a collaboration between the Galiano Conservancy (GCA), Access to Media Education Society (AMES), members of the Penelakut First Nation, and the Galiano community.
If you’d like to get involved, we hold regular volunteer days on the Second Saturday of each month, between 2 and 4pm. Check out our volunteer opportunities for more information.
For school groups, check out our new Native Plant Inspirations program.
Visiting the Forage Forest
The Nuts’a’maat Forage Forest is home to more than 50 species of edible and medicinal native plants. It is located at the Millard Learning Centre, 10825 Porlier Pass Rd on Galiano Island. The site is accessible to the public year-round (unless an education program is taking place – this will be posted at the entrance to the Millard Learning Centre). A trail map and deck of native plant cards for assistance with plant identification and Hul’qumi’num plant names are available at the entrance to the site.
Please tread lightly when you visit the Forage Forest. The plants are tended by GCA staff and volunteers, and are intended primarily for harvest during community feasts and education programs. If you decide to harvest for personal use, please leave plenty behind for others to ensure future harvests. Do not harvest any plant unless you are familiar with the species and protocols – the GCA is not responsible for any harm arising from harvest or consumption of plants in the Forage Forest.
For more information on traditional foods and medicines and their use, visit Salish Harvest.
Up until around the year 2000, the project site was an old-growth western redcedar (Thuja plicata) forest, with ancient trees rising up to 70 meters over a rich understory of edible and medicinal native herbs and shrubs.
When the Galiano Conservancy acquired the land that would become the Millard Learning Centre, all that remained of this forest was a single western redcedar, standing alone in the center of a 0.5 hectare clearcut. This survivor was spared the axe only on the insistence of the late Ken Millard, whose vision and dedication would lay a solid foundation for this project. The tree was dubbed ‘The Grandmother Cedar’, and still presides over the now-regenerating forest.
After years of compaction from logging equipment and heavy browsing by native Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus), the site was dominated by introduced grasses and thistles. Woody debris was concentrated in slash piles across the site. Invasive species such as English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Cutleaf Blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) were becoming established. While a number of native understory species persisted amidst the stumps of the original redcedar canopy, there were no signs of natural forest regeneration until the project began.
Planning and Design
The project 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. Starting in late 2016, GCA and AMES staff hosted a series of meetings with members of the Penelakut First Nation, including Augie Sylvester, Karen Charlie, and Richard Charlie. These meetings were carefully documented and helped inform the spirit and trajectory of the project.
Meanwhile, students from the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria had been visiting the site during an annual summer restoration field school at the Millard Learning Centre, led by Eric Higgs. Successive groups of students developed and presented restoration plans for the site, each bringing new ideas to the table. In 2017, a student from the Restoration of Natural Systems program at the University of Victoria produced a final restoration prescription for the site, incorporating ideas and feedback from the community meetings and previous student reports. The full report is available here.
A virtual walkthrough of the Forage Forest, set in the year 2040, was produced to accompany the report:
Active restoration activities on the site began in November of 2017 with fencing and mechanical decompaction of damaged soils using Dave Polster’s “rough and loose” method.
In late winter of 2018, schoolchildren from Penelakut and Galiano came together with Penelakut elders, GCA and AMES staff, and community volunteers to plant over 50 native species – mostly sourced from the GCA’s own native plant nursery – on the site.
Planting was accompanied by a cedar weaving workshop, led by Karen and Richard Charlie.
In September of 2018, during the annual GCA Musical Walkalong For Learning, the first in a series of art works in dialogue were unveiled at the entrance to the Forage Forest. The twin heron sentinels at the entrance are just the first in a series of collaborative pieces by Penelakut artists Richie Smith, Richard Charlie and Galiano artist Kenna Fair that will populate the Forage Forest.
Restoration activities continued throughout 2018, and are ongoing in the Forage Forest, as we manage invasive species, establish additional native species, and guide plant succession.
The first harvests from the Forage Forest took place in fall and winter of 2018 and 2019. In September of 2018, t’eqe’ (salal) berries were harvested and preserved for future community events.
In May of 2019, yaala’ (cow parsnip) shoots, nodding onion greens and bulbs, q’uxmin (biscuitroot) greens, and se’uq (bracken fern) fiddleheads were harvested, prepared, and served to a group of 70 leaders from across the Salish Sea at the Millard Learning Centre.
July of 2019 saw the first groups participate in our new Native Plant Investigations program, which involves much munching and harvest of plants for tea blending.
We also harvest throughout the season to produce our Forest Garden Tea brand, which can be purchased at the Millard Learning Centre and at the Loose Leaf Tea and Papery in Sturdies Bay.
The results have been delicious, and we anticipate many future harvests of an increasing quantity and diversity as the Forage Forest continues to grow.
Harvest activities will take place periodically throughout the season – check out our Second Saturday volunteer day to get involved.
Ongoing care and monitoring are essential parts of any restoration project, and the Forage Forest is no exception. But how to account for the health and impacts of such a unique project, with ecological, social, and artistic dimensions? In anticipation of this dilemma, University of Victoria post-graduate student Hyeone Park devoted her studies to developing a monitoring framework that could accommodate the unique features this project. Her masters thesis, entitled “A model of food forestry and its monitoring framework in the context of ecological restoration”, guides our monitoring work moving forward, and resulted in an article in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.
Students and interns take part in executing the monitoring framework and collecting data on an annual basis. Our hope is to capture the range of ecological and social values created through innovative projects like the Forage Forest.
The Future of the Forage Forest
The GCA considers itself just one of several stewards of the Forage Forest, which will grow and evolve in parallel with the many relationships that led to its creation. We invite those who are interested to visit, volunteer, harvest, and help guide the future of this project.
For more information, check out this video about the Forage Forest, produced by AMES and narrated by Keith Erickson, executive director of the GCA: