Location: Vancouver Harbor Vancouver, BC
The foraging of foods which grow in the wild without cultivation or human assistance
Tyler collects wild seasonal foods for restaurants and chefs across North America. We agree to meet one morning at 9AM so he can show me the bull kelp harvest. I’m two hours late (border problems) so by the time we get to the water the tide has risen dramatically. Instead of casually picking kelp off the rocks, Tyler must dive into the frigid waters (in a steady downpour). I end up buying him lunch.
Bull Kelp grows all along the Pacific coastline ... from Southern California to Canada. It grows year round but the healthiest kelps are found in spring and summer.
Featuring: Forager Tyler Grey of Mikuni Wild Harvest
Professional foragers travel between the Yukon, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and California. Foraging is fun, adventures, healthy, rewarding and romantic it’s an activity that connects you viscerally to nature, it requires respect yet imports knowledge
1. Bring a friend or be sure to tell someone where you’re going
2. When in an unfamiliar area bring extra supplies (compass, matches, and a knife)
3. Always pay attention to visual landmarks; they can help you find your way out of the forest if you get disoriented
4. Novice foragers should NEVER eat anything they’ve foraged until its species has been confirmed by someone with experience
I arrive in Vancouver two hours late. I blame this on my daughter. It was her idea to bring our dog along for this road trip, which turned our border crossing at Blaine, Washington, into an unexpectedly time- consuming misadventure. I’m here to meet Tyler Gray, the owner of Mikuni Wild Harvest, a unique food company that sells only FORAGED food. Everything from truffles to snails to mushrooms to exotic forest greens like fiddlehead ferns and wild licorice root. His is strictly a seasonal business—his company only sells what is found in the wild—and his clients include many of the top chefs in the United States.
We finally rendezvous at a tiny Vancouver café.
Gray has promised to reveal one stop on the FORAGING CIRCUIT, a network that spreads across Canada and throughout the Pacific Northwest, even as far south as Eugene, Oregon. One such spot is a tiny rock-bound beach near Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge. If I’d arrived on time Gray would simply wade into ankle- deep water and WILD HARVEST a dozen kelp bulbs and their long, semitranslucent leaves or blades, but—as previously mentioned—I’m two hours late. The tide has risen. I stand on the shore, watching sheepishly as Gray strips down to his boxer shorts and dives into the water. It’s October and the water is cold. Then it starts to rain. Gray bobs on the surface, then dives repeatedly until returning to shore with an armful of kelp.
An hour later we descend into a thick forest on the far side of Vancouver, pushing through dense foliage to discover mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. Our wicker basket quickly fills with an assortment of wild
goods. There’s the “Chicken of the Woods”—called that because it tastes like chicken—and one named the “cauliflower” because . . . it looks like a massive cauli- flower. The whole event would seem magical except we’re never more than twenty yards off the fairway at a prominent Vancouver golf course. The continuous cursing elicited by one botched tee shot after another becomes the comedic sound track to our foraging odyssey.
I joke that Gray’s secret hunting ground will be lost once the first golfer dives into the forest to retrieve an errant golf ball, but he’s not so sure. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with someone and picked a patch of miner’s lettuce or Siberian oxtails and they’re like, ‘Wow. I’ve got that growing in my backyard. I had no idea you could eat it.’ There’s this belief that wild foods are dangerous. Maybe it’s not as much now, but our relationship with the wild and with wild foods is still in its infancy compared to Asia or Europe.”
Story Bank: Our Relationship to Wild Foods
Tyler Gray grew up in a small, remote, coastal town in British Columbia Canada. While other kids were out playing street hockey and throwing eggs at cars, he was trekking through the forests and fields with his mom, learning about wild foods and how to forage as part of a self sustaining way of life. Tyler and his two partners launched Mikuni Wild Harvest, a purveyor for North American restaurants, chefs, and specialty food stores.
DG – Interviewer Douglas Gayeton
TG – Interviewee Tyler Gray
DG: Why is it important that people eat with the seasons?
TG: If we don’t start to take a look at eating with the seasons, whether it's wild foraged ingredients or eating locally, we’re going to see major continued issues in human health and the environment. Those are just the raw facts of reality.
Our lives become much richer when we’re more connected with nature. The only way to be connected with nature is to be in-the- moment, in a co-existing relationship with nature in an integrated fashion. If tomatoes are growing, then you’re making tomatoes sauces, preserving them, and using them for months and years to come. If wild chanterelles are growing, then you’re doing the same — preserving them, pickling them, and using them to come.
This adds a rich, layered, and nuanced depth to our interaction with nature. The way we go about walking through life with literally no visceral or physical connection to the environment that we live in is terrible. It’s not beneficial from an environmental, physical, emotional, or spiritual perspective.
DG: Your business is in foraged goods. How do you handle people who expect you sell products 12 months out of the year?
TG: To be honest, the answer is education. We haven’t overpromised and under delivered. We’ve been very prolific in educating all of our chefs that if they’re working with a specific product in that is perhaps not doing well because of adverse weather conditions, then they mostly understand it. It didn’t begin that way, but people and chefs understand it’s something that you have to roll with now.
DG: What surprises you most about the experience taking someone foraging with you?
TG: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked through the bush with someone and picked a berry, vegetable or green leaf and that person said, “Wow. I’ve walked by that like a hundred times. I’ve lived in this area and gone for walks in this park or I’ve got this patch of miner’s lettuce or Siberian oxalis growing in my backyard and I had no idea.”
We have a common misunderstanding that wild foods are dangerous. It’s archaic, but unfortunately we’re still so new to the foods. Our relationship with the wild and wild foods is still in its infancy stage compared to Asia or Europe.
Nonetheless, it’s getting better. Of course, it’s true that you must have some knowledge. It’s also so fun. People love that they have this immediate connection with it because wild foods provide a connection with nature that is immediate and is fun. Once I teach someone what a mountain huckleberry is, they have that knowledge forever and it’s something they can carry with them.