Wherever Célia Auclair and her husband Benjamin Patarin travel, they educate themselves about the local plants and wild foods. With his master’s degree in agroforestry, Benjamin is able to identify what is safe to eat and Célia has learned from him along the way.
“What is edible and how you can feed yourself is a habit you have to create,” says Célia. “Once you have it, you learn and then pass on the information.” Since arriving on Vancouver Island, Célia and Benjamin, co-owners of Forest for Dinner, have been sharing knowledge about the local wild foods.
“We first got into the business through morel picking,” recounts Célia. After selling in local farmers markets, she and Benjamin also exported mushrooms for a few years. At the markets, the pair noticed how seldomly the local residents were aware of the broad varieties of mushrooms available in the forests around them.
“The first year, we were literally giving away all types of mushrooms: cauliflower, winter chanterelle, pine.” Many customers were reluctant to try something new at first, but then quickly began requesting more varieties. “Once we created the demand for something, people realized the food is here. Educate people about food – once they know, they get used to the food, and then they eat more of it.”
“Innovation is a change in perspective and creating something new,” says Célia. “The food is there; it just needs to be perceived. Then what do you do?”
With only a small percentage of the food produced in British Columbia available locally, Célia and Benjamin saw an opportunity to offer more local options to their community, which also poses some challenges. “We have the food here, so we have the supply, but customers don’t have a way to access to it,” Célia explains. “We need to extend shelf life and have food available year-round in different forms, like dry, frozen, or preserve.”
Célia and Benjamin began to explore how best to extend the shelf life of local food. Drawing on Célia’s business background and lessons learned along the way, they have scaled up production and now include many locally available and wildly harvested foods. The current product line features a number of wild foods in jams, jellies, pickled, and frozen products.
“We’re not inventing a new type of food. The food is here – it is everywhere around us. We’re presenting it in a way where people can enjoy it very easily.” Célia notes that the sheer variety of products on offer is one way in which Forest for Dinner sets itself apart. “We have seven different jams of wild berry grown on the island. You won’t find that anywhere else. This range of product, no one else is doing it.”
Célia adds that innovation can be the result of insight after deep reflection. “We have to think of what we want for our future and the future generations.”
This connection to the future is part of what makes Célia proud of Forest for Dinner. “We are helping to educate people about what is edible around us. Education is extremely valuable for protecting the environment. Once you know there is food growing around you, you are more willing to protect that very same environment. I think that is vital.”