HarvestWild - Field to Table Eating
By Jon Lewis
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
AARON GRABIEL caught his first fish at the ripe old age of 30 months and the toddler was hooked. “Every single day he’d ask, ‘Mom, would you take me fishing?’” recalls his mother, Colleen Agresta. “Fortunately, we lived in the country and I was able to take him. He pretty much lived outdoors.”
Not much has changed over the intervening years. Grabiel still spends the bulk of his time outdoors, but these days the veteran hunting and fishing guide is working hard to get others out of the house and into the woods or on the water. And not just to hunt or fish: He wants everybody to find their inner hunter-gatherer.
With that mission in mind, Grabiel and his wife, Michelle, formed HarvestWild a year ago. The company’s goal is to help people reconnect with the outdoors and discover the joys of wild foods.
Not content to simply guide hunting and fishing trips, the HarvestWild team wants its clients to become comfortable out in nature by honing woodsmanship skills, learning how to gather food (including wild game and fish), how to prepare it and, perhaps most importantly, how to enjoy a fuller life.
Michelle Grabiel, who grew up on the outskirts of Redding and shared plenty of hunting and fishing adventures with her father, says she and her husband were concerned a growing number of people were being cut off from outdoor experiences, either because of a lack of confidence or simply a lack of opportunity.
“We started HarvestWild with the goal of getting more people in the outdoors, so they wouldn’t feel intimidated or that they couldn’t do it,” she says.
Grabiel approaches the venture more as a hunter and angler who developed a keen interest in foraging. At the end of the day, he reasons, hunters and gatherers are both after natural, unprocessed foods, so why not merge both schools of thought and bring them together under one roof?
For the gathering piece of the equation, the Grabiels brought on Wolfgang “Wolfy” Rougle, a botanist and wild food educator who enjoys taking people out for walks, in town or out in the woods, and identifying edible plants.
“There’s a profound dimension to knowing what’s out there,” Rougle says. For hunters, an understanding of the plants around you helps you understand what the animals do and how they move, she says.
“No culture on Earth hasn’t foraged for wild greens and made that a part of their diet,” Rougle says. “Getting to know even one or two species of a plant and going from there – when it grows, where it grows, the uses for it – will deepen your understanding of where you live.”
To illustrate her point, Rougle notes that the mullein plant, with its tall, spiky yellow flowers, makes a tea that can soothe throats ravaged by smoke during the wildfire season. Curly Dock, another invasive weed, offers a pleasant lemony flavor when steamed, she adds.
Grabiel, who calls Rougle “an incredible resource,” says her foraging skills mesh well with those who enjoy harvesting wild game. Rougle agrees: “People who are into hunting and fishing tend to have a pretty good respect for the wild. They understand intuitively that we were meant to be in a relationship with other living things, including the plants. They all have something to teach us. We all want everyone involved in the natural world and feeling they’re a part of it, because we are.”
Once the flora and fauna are in hand, HarvestWild offers expert cooking tips from Manlio Melloni, a Costa Rica-born chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu and has worked at restaurants in Florida.
“He’s an incredible cook. He has that Costa Rican influence and he’s been a chef in the states, on yachts … he just goes from place to place, getting food from local markets. He’s got that creative edge and enjoys cooking in harmony with the seasons,” Grabiel says.
HarvestWild seeks a return to old-fashioned cooking that can transform free-range, wild-caught game into dishes that even the most hesitant of palates can embrace. “Have you ever wondered how to cook a meal with venison that your in-laws would like?” asks Grabiel.
HarvestWild offers a variety of clinics and guided outings that pair hunting (blacktail deer, wild pigs, turkey and ducks) or fishing (both fly fishing and gear fishing for trout, steelhead, salmon and bass) with foraging and cooking.
Michelle Grabiel says educational programs and how-to videos on topics ranging from hunter safety to interpreting maps are in the works. “There’s so much more. We’ve got so many ideas. We want to host a lot more clinics and do campouts where you fish one day, gather the next and then cook,” she says. •