When local forager Scott Moran talks about his work you can’t help but think of how romantic and daring it is — the ability to live off the bounty of the land and be self-sufficient — but the reailty is he puts a lot of hard work into creating this charming life.
With names like lambs quarter, miner’s lettuce and chenopodium, and mushrooms like chanterelles and porcini, the harvest seems to bolster the romantic notion and even Moran’s description of early mornings spent driving to remote locations and long days spent clambering over logs and rocks, doesn’t quite kill the appeal of foraging.
Nor does discovering that having him with you, lost in the depths of the forest, wouldn’t be the advantage you think it is. Even though he forages for about 300 different plants it’s not the type of food you’d need to survive.
“You’d be okay as long as I had like, a tub of lard with me,” Moran laughs. “The things I pick, there’s not a lot of calories in them. They’re nutrient rich but there’s not much to them. After you get scurvy next year, that’s when you want me around.”
Besides the physical rigours of the job, Moran must also market himself and sell what he can forage, either through the Kelowna Farmers Market or to a roster of upscale restaurants and wineries in the valley. The 23 year old does manage to coble together a decent living doing just that; selling wild mushrooms, edible greens and other forest exotics to local chefs at places like Raudz, Bouchon, The Salted Brick and The Curious in downtown Kelowna.
“Quails Gate, Mission Hill, The Cove, they are all customers and they’re on the same road so I can hit them all at the same time,” he adds.
Foraging takes Moran through three seasons and a variety of terrain from remote remnants of past wildfires favoured by wild mushrooms, to rural areas at the edge of communities for items like chenopodium, a herbaceuos flowering plant.
“That’s an important one for me. It loves disturbed soil and the excess fertilizer on the edges of organic farms. I’ve found it in Glenmore, Westbank, the Mission.”
Moran is in the midst of mushroom season right now, which means early mornings and late nights picking, sorting and selling because, as he points out, the season doesn’t wait for you.
“You have to go all out while you can. And it doesn’t really count, until you sell it. You can pick as much as you want but if you can’t sell it, you’ve got nothing.”
For his efforts, Moran will make as much as $30 per kilogram for wild greens, $50 for small stuff like miner’s lettuce or wild cress. Wild mushrooms return a lot less, around $10 per kilogram, but make up for it in volume.
Prices vary for the more exotic stuff and Moran has had to create his own market with local chefs by showing them what they can do with it.
“People have come to trust my judgement. I sometimes have to tell them what’s good and educate them about it, give them suggestions. I will sometimes bring in a bunch of different things just to show them off and get them thinking about what they could do with it.”
While there is no formal designation for a forager, Moran has come by his vocation honestly, starting at home but then working overseas where a forager is a more recognized profession.
“We all used to go out mushroom picking together as a family, did big morels. Then I went to Europe and worked picking non-mushroom products. That’s where I learned everything else.”
Moran says foraging is what he wants to do long-term and he has plans for a commercial website, foraging tours and product development.