Matt Crowley/The AS Review
When thinking about foraging, most of us probably picture a hearty but less-than-appetizing meal of berries and leaves. However, for Fairhaven instructor Jennifer Hahn and many other foragers like her, the possibilities in the forests and bodies of water that surround us are more delicious than we may think.
Hahn learned how to forage years ago and has made it one of her life passions, writing multiple books on the subject and even teaching classes at Fairhaven, including one titled “Northwest Wild Foods,” which will be offered spring quarter. On Friday, April 8, Hahn will host “GO WILD: Coastal Foraging and Cuisine” at the Bellingham Public Library. The event will include a lecture, wild food samples and a book signing for her newest work, “Pacific Feast.”
Professor John Tuxill, who also teaches at Fairhaven, is a forager himself and has worked with Hahn in the past. During spring quarter, he will be teaching an ethnobotany class that looks at the multiple uses of plants such as for food, medicine and clothing.
“I love making dishes and preparing food based on what I can find,” Tuxill said. “Once you cover some of the basic costs [of fishing/foraging licenses] it’s basically a free meal.”
Tuxill and Hahn both warned about some of the dangers of foraging, both for people and the ecosystem.
“There are a few cases where you may need to think about where exactly you’re harvesting,” Tuxill said. “Because plants take up what’s in their environment, if there’s a site where the soil is contaminated, you might want to think carefully before eating plants growing there.”
Hahn noted the importance of conservation and why it’s important to keep sustainability in mind when foraging.
Since hundreds of other organisms share the same ecosystem, over-foraging of a particular area can make for both short and long-term negative effects.
“I’m all about sustainable,” she said. “I can’t imagine how I would feel harvesting things without thinking about what other animals are eating them as well.”
For Tuxill and Hahn, foraging is as much about the experience as it is a skill. Both consider liberating to know exactly where your food came from and to have the experience of fending for yourself. Like many other foragers, Hahn began “experimentally” foraging as a child, trying everything from crabapples to acorns. Since her father was a teacher, she and her family traveled extensively during the summers, including to Washington state, where berries, clams and fish were as plentiful as they were delicious.
At age 10, Hahn met an individual she described as an “old world forager,” who taught her the secrets of nature and the foods it has to offer.
After her foraging teacher died, Hahn was given her old field guides, which led Hahn to continue foraging through college.
However, it wasn’t until college that Hahn decided to change the course of her life. Already on her way to a law degree, a college professor took Hahn and a few other students on a trip along the Inside Passage, a route on the Pacific coast that stretches from Alaska down to northwest Washington, with a goal to live off the land and ocean for one month.
Hahn said she really honed her skills and became a true forager on that trip. From then on, she leaned away from learning law and began taking more natural history courses instead.
Shortly after, Hahn started a kayak touring company to give others the opportunities she was given,to learn about the surrounding area and the possibilities it holds, from food sources to medicine.
“There’s something mystifying about knowing exactly where your food came from,” she said. “It’s nourishing on a spiritual level as well.”
In the future, Hahn wants to continue passing down her knowledge while encouraging others to invest in their natural surroundings.
“I feel like all is right with the world if all these edible communities keep popping up season after season,” she said. “When I wrote the book, I wanted people to fall in love with conservation of these species through the palette.” ■