Yampatika’s Wild Edible Feast goes virtual with ‘Dig In’ video master class | SteamboatToday.com
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Yampatika’s Wild Edible Feast goes virtual with ‘Dig In’ video master class

Karen Vail, naturalist for Yampatika, shows the root area of a cattail that can be eaten and tastes similar to bamboo shoots.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Following the countless cancellations this spring are countless examples of creative innovation and reinvention, demonstrated most recently by Yampatika, Steamboat Springs’ environmental education nonprofit. 

The 21st annual Wild Edible Feast Fundraiser, in which attendees learn to harvest wild edible plants with Yampatika naturalists, cook them with local chefs and eat them in a communal meal, was originally set for May 28. When Yampatika’s leadership team decided to cancel the event, they put their heads together to figure out a replacement event that would be possible to hold under social distancing guidelines.

“We wanted to offer our loyal patrons a related experience,” said Executive Director Joe Haines. 

The result: a video series masterclass called “Dig In! Harvesting and Cooking with Wild Edibles at Home.” The videos will feature longtime Yampatika naturalists Karen Vail and Mary O’Brien harvesting wild edibles and talking through plant identification techniques and best sustainable practices. The naturalists then portion out and deliver the wild edibles to half a dozen local chefs, who will use the plants and donated local proteins to create an assortment of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts.

Participating chefs include Heather Craigen, of Moving Mountains; Chereen Schwarz, of Wilderbean Provisions; Gregory Smith, of Fireside Catering; Damon Renfroe, of The Mountain Chef; Ben Stroock, of The Drunken Onion and Get & Go Kitchen; and a chef representing Lake Catamount Ranch and Club.

The final video class series will be part tutorial, part adventure, and after watching it, its viewers will be equipped to journey out and begin harvesting and cooking their own wild edibles. 

This year, naturalist O’Brien predicts that wild onions, yampa leaves, stinging nettles and sweet anise leaves will be especially abundant, and possibly wild mustard and bracken ferns, as well. Other potential wild edibles in the series include rhubarb, wintercress, dandelion greens and yampa root; it all depends on the weather and location, according to O’Brien.

Chefs prepared gourmet food using ingredients native to the Yampa Valley for 2017’s Wild Edible Feast. Pictured from left are: Chef Jason Sirois, Sous Chef Sean A. Goodale, Sous Chef Dan Hoffman, Executive Chef Ariel Robey and Tyler Jones.

“I’m always excited to see what’s out there,” O’Brien said. “I always look forward to going to these places. I don’t normally see what’s growing, and I like sharing and teaching people about the gifts of the plants. 

“Not having people there to learn and share is going to be really different,” O’Brien added. “But the goal is that we’ll get that across on the video.”

Haines notes that a benefit of the video class series is that it’s not limited to a single date, the way the in-person feast is. The videos will be available for viewing indefinitely, on the viewer’s schedule. Another benefit is that the price for the masterclass, which begins at $50, is more feasible for some potential participants than the cost of a ticket to a traditional Wild Edible Feast, which is generally around $100.

“Hopefully, people will get to engage in some learning that they haven’t had a chance to in the past,” Haines said. 

Access to the video series and a recipe book begins at $50, but with higher donations, participants get to access more benefits, including a book about local hiking, a book about wildflowers and medicinal herbs of the southern Rockies and gift certificates for future Yampatika programs.

Funds raised from the video series will support Yampatika’s mission of inspiring environmental stewardship through education. During a typical year, the organization’s work features year-round programming for youth and adults, ranging from school-based programs, seasonal walks and tours and programs at the Environmental Learning Center at Legacy Ranch. Since mid-March, Yampatika has shifted its programming to continue to engage its audiences, including Zooming into classroom meet-ups to work with students and creating materials for its website and social media for anyone to access. 

“Part of our purpose as an organization is to help people to develop this wondrous sense of connection with the natural world,” Haines said. “In this day and age, to be able to get out in nature and forage your own wild vegetables, especially when we’ve been very confined for the past few months, that’s a neat opportunity that will be very satisfying with a sense of reward.”

When it’s safe for the Wild Edible Feast to be conducted in its original, in-person form again, it may be appreciated even more than it was before.

“To be able to share an experience and taste the food together — that personal connection — that’s what will be missing from an event like (the digital masterclass),” Haines said. “That will be the real value when we get back to (the original in-person feast).”

The video series will be filmed in late May, and the masterclass is scheduled to be released in the first week of June. Tickets will be available at yampatika.org.

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


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