Bare trees and dead grass may not look like much, but for Fred Dardenne the landscape in Nova Scotia is a pantry for all sorts of wild foods.
Dardenne, 44, makes a living by foraging for things like wild mushrooms, berries and sea greens. He sells them to roughly 60 Halifax restaurants, including Chives, EDNA, and the Agricola Street Brasserie where he dries and stores his daily harvest.
Dardenne learned how to forage when he was a young boy growing up in Belgium. He has been living in Nova Scotia for eight years and says you can find lots of wild food, every season.
He sells around 150 different products in Nova Scotia, he says. "The restaurants and chefs use spices, vegetables and berries."
'Free in nature'
Five years ago, Dardenne was employed as a carpenter until he decided to pursue foraging as a full-time job. He has special permission from Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources to forage on Crown land.
His efforts take him around the province, from the Bay of Fundy to Lunenburg to Nova Scotia's eastern shore.
"I am free in the nature, you have no stress," he says. At the beginning, he says, the work was "no good for the money. But now it's good for money and good for my life."
Dardenne says to make good money, you need a lot of customers. In addition to the restaurants in Halifax, he also ships wild food to Toronto and Montreal, and even as far as Dubai.
The wild edibles Dardenne finds are not your typical grocery store variety. His harvests include a spring flower called coltsfoot, and catkins, a seed pod that can be ground into a spice. This unconventional bounty allows restaurants to work with new, local ingredients.
"We can showcase the ingredients of Nova Scotia to our customers on our plates," said Ludovic Eveno, co-owner of the Agricola Street Brasserie, the north-end restaurant where Dardenne stores kilograms of wild food.
"It's just great because we can have access to many ingredients from foraging."
Dardenne also runs foraging tours in the warmer months where you can join him in the woods to learn about and find your own wild goodies. If outside nature isn't your thing, Dardenne also offers weekly wild food boxes.