Yampatika Wild Edible Feast turns 20 | SteamboatToday.com

Yampatika Wild Edible Feast turns 20

Mary O’Brien picks plants for a Yampatika Wild Edible feast. (courtesy of Kellie Gorman)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Get curious, get hungry and get your feasting bib on. On Thursday, June 6, environmental education nonprofit Yampatika hosts a trek for your tastebuds, venturing through all sorts of local wild edible plants and proteins. 

The Wild Edible Feast is part educational program, part fundraiser. In the days before the event, Yampatika staff and volunteers head out on a picking spree. Yampatika founder and wildflower expert Karen Vail has led the picking parties for the 20 years of the event’s existence.

But even with Vail’s decades of experience, nature is still full of surprises. 

“Every year is different, in the sense that we’re never quite sure what we’re going to go and get, because it’s all dependent on nature and the weather,” Yampatika Executive Director Joe Haines said. “It’s always a little bit of an adventure.” 

Some edible plants are consistently available for the event’s purposes year to year: wild rhubarb, cattail roots and wild onions. Others are more elusive, like yampa root. 

With this spring being wetter and colder than the past several years, the Yampa Valley’s growing season is off to a late start. This led the Yampatika crew to move their search for wild edibles to the more southernly, lower-in-elevation area of South Routt, Haines said. Much of the wild edibles come from owners of ranches and farms who’ve partnered with Yampatika to allow the plants of their land to support the Wild Edible Feast. 

Next, local chefs prepare and pair the pickings with various forms of proteins that have been donated to the event. 

For the first time in several years, one protein that will be offered at the dinner is moose. In past events, feasters had the chance to sample bear, elk and once, mountain lion meat that was salvaged from a poached lion that Colorado Parks & Wildlife confiscated and didn’t want to go to waste, according to Haines. 

If you go

What: Wild Edible Feast
When: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.Thursday, June 6
Where: The Steamboat Grand Tent

“The menu is basically created 24 to 48 hours in advance of the feast,” Haines said. “The chefs pair the unique proteins with these wild edibles to create really neat combinations. The flavors are amazing.” 

This year’s chefs are chef Adam and chef Ariel, hailing from The Steamboat Grand. 

Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, the multi-course meal, plus dessert, is served on small plates spread throughout several stations, so guests can choose what they’re trying at their own pace. Each food station will offer information about its content. 

Gathering guidelines and ethics (from “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” by Karen Vail and Mary O’Brien)

What to harvest? Be smart, take a field guide and be absolutely positive with your ID before tasting or using a plant. Many plants have edible and toxic parts, and some are only edible at certain times of the year. Additionally, there are poisonous “look-alike” plants out there, so again, be cautious.

How to harvest? Be a good steward, be respectful of the local environment and honor the plants you are harvesting. This is an important step not to overlook. Leave the grandparent plants — mature and seed producing — and harvest younger specimens. Evaluate if the stand can support the harvesting you‘re looking to do. One or two plants? Don’t harvest. A good-sized population? Harvest only up to a third of the plants. Be mindful of protected, over harvested and endangered species. Never harvest these. Consider the wildlife that depends on the plants and respect what they will need.

When to harvest? Time of year, time of day and the weather all have an impact on when the best time is to harvest. Get a trusted book and do the research.

Logistics of harvesting:

• Ask permission if you are looking to harvest on private property. Research the regulations for public land harvesting and get the appropriate permits.

• Ponder the health of the soil. Any contaminants around from roads, area dogs are often walked (and poop) and possibilities of pesticides.

• Plant wild edibles in your gardens or spread around your own property.

In addition to the dinner, the Wild Edible Feast features a silent auction, educational programming and talks by Yampatika naturalists.

“We’re talking about what people are eating, why we included those items and how we sustainably picked it, as well as talking about our educational events that we’re fundraising for,” Haines said. 

Yampatika’s programming ranges from fall and spring festivals to summer day camps, programming in school to educational snowshoes and hikes open to the public. The Wild Edible Feast is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Haines said. 

This year’s feast event is, for the first time, preceded by a pre-reception event called “Behind the Scenes Wild Edible Tutorial.” This event is set for 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, and will be led by Vail and medicinal herb expert Mary O’Brien.

“We’ll have plants there, and we’ll ID them and talk about where to find them and how to use them,” Vail said. “It’s an opportunity for people to get a little more hands-on experience.” 

Tickets to the tutorial are capped at 30 and are already sold out, but tickets to the Wild Edible Feast are still available at yampatika.org for $100 each. 

Yampa fern-leaf lovage
Yampa sweet anise
Yampa root

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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