By Dani Hemmat
Bainbridge Island has an abundance of so many good things—great schools, sweet little beaches, fruitful farms, elbow room, small town charm and lush forests, to name a few. Add food foraging to the list of island riches that not many folks know about. Those who do know appreciate the bounty Bainbridge offers. And sometimes, they’re willing to share. Take Kathryn Lafond, an islander who has been foraging since the mid 1990s. She doesn’t just gather the plants that liven up her salads or compose healing teas for her family. She treats each plant with reverence, not taking too much of any one species, spending time with the plants before harvesting, and relishing in the rhythm of the seasons with each harvest.
“Foraging is such a tactile experience,” said Lafond. She enjoys the seasonality of gathering the food and medicine she finds here on Bainbridge Island, foraging primarily on the five wild acres she lives on, and sometimes at Gazzam Lake. “Spring is my favorite season for foraging—it’s like old friends come back to visit.” Her second favorite? Fall. “There are blackberries, salal, and evergreen huckleberries.”
While Lafond originally foraged with the purpose of selling healing salves and healthy foods to others, she soon realized that nourishing her own family was work enough, and that focus enabled her to specialize and learn more about the plants. She now shares her knowledge through classes she teaches for Bainbridge Island Parks and Recreation, including plant identification, preparation and storing for cooking and medicinal purposes. I asked what her favorite foraged find is, and she led me back into her cultivated garden, overgrown with weeds that most of us pull and chuck. Then she smiled, gently pinched off a handful of greens carpeting the dirt beneath her broccoli plants and offered me some.
“Chickweed,” she said, “is a natural diuretic, high in vitamins, calcium, chlorophyll, potassium, carotenes, and also supplies protein. Mostly it’s a great spring vegetable but returns in the fall and sometimes is available year-round. I often eat some in my salad.” “I love to teach about what we have in our own common landscapes,” said Lafond, as she noted that brewed salal leaves taste like coffee Foraging isn’t just about gathering plants. If you can get it without shooting it, then you’re foraging. Dylan Tomine, owner of Bainbridge Island Blueberry Farm and author of a new book on foraging, “Closer to the Ground,” forages with his family year-round for fish, crab and clams, as well as berries, mushrooms and nettles.
A forager since he was a kid—if you count jumping over fences and swiping raspberries and apples—Tomine gained a new appreciation for foraging his own food once he began to bring his children along for the ride. “One of the great things we’ve found is that they love being a part of it, and I don’t know if it’s pride in having gotten it themselves, but they end up having a taste for these healthy foods that we didn’t anticipate. The really cool part about it,
whether you’re growing or digging or searching, is that it’s something you can do together and everyone ends up eating a little better.”
While no forager worth his weight in geoducks will give away favorite haunts, ethical foragers do have rules. Leave plenty for wildlife—they don’t have grocery stores. Harvest correctly to ensure future harvests. Be educated about what you’re harvesting. Offer gratitude for what you’re picking. Waste nothing. Assume the attitude of a caretaker and tread lightly, leaving your harvest site as natural looking as you found it, so that our little island of abundance continues to nourish for generations to come.