Meet the forager who brings wild food to 60 Halifax restaurants

Fred Dardenne makes a living by foraging for things like wild mushrooms, berries and sea greens.

Fred Dardenne forages for wild foods in Nova Scotia

Dardenne forages at a different Nova Scotia location every day. Here he is exploring Rainbow Haven Provincial Park. (CBC News)

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 plucks a dandelion root from the ground. He says dandelion plants can be used for things like tea and salad greens. (CBC News)

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.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, Dardenne is out foraging every day (CBC News)

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."

Fred stands by a crop of spring catkins, a seed pod that can be dried, ground up and used as a natural pepper (Jennifer Lee)

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.

I am free in the nature, you have no stress- Fred Dardenne

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.

A display of some of the ingredients Dardenne's finds including dulce (top left), coltsfoot flowers (bottom left), nori (centre) and dried and wet sea lettuce (green). (CBC News)

"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.

Ludovic Eveno co-owns the Agricola Street Brasserie. (CBC News)

"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.