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Assessing the validity of wild food production in Manitoba

Can Manitoba landowners harness the potential that grows in untouched wooded areas?

picking blueberries

Manitoba forests and wooded areas could be a cornucopia of wild edibles ranging from mushrooms to herbal teas, the Woodlot Association of Manitoba (WAM) says.

It has been consulting with woodlot owners this spring about the potential for creating a sustainable woodland food industry.

“We are trying to suggest to landowners that they can do something with these unused areas,” said Mike James of WAM.

The initiative is looking at woodlots, shelterbelts, treed lots or river bottom forest to assess the inventory of existing wild food production and the potential for enhanced use of wooded farmlands to grow wild foods.

The Woodland Farm Food Project has been supported by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Growing Forward 2 initiative.

“We thought that the best way to go about this was to set up consultation meetings not just to talk about timber forest products or wild foods but to ask people what they thought about this and what they have been doing and what kind of direction they would like to see this move,” said James.

According to WAM, Manitoba currently has 2.4 million acres of privately owned wooded land, shared by approximately 13,500 landowners. The organization believes that these areas offer an untapped opportunity for economic diversity.

Wooded lands can offer a multitude of consumables, including wild nuts, berries, forest honey, birch and maple syrup, edible fungi, herbal tea sources, essential oil sources and wild salad ingredients.

Consultations have been held in The Pas, Dauphin, Brandon, Portage, and meetings are scheduled in Selkirk and Lac du Bonnet later this month.

“We have seen a cross-section of individuals attend these meetings, everyday producers, Hutterites, First Nations individuals as well as woodlot owners. The interest is there and we have received some good response on our survey,” said James.

The project builds on previous work done by the Manitoba Model Forest and the Northern Development Centre, which had previously focused on forested areas in the North on First Nations’ land.

WAM has now shifted focus to the wooded lands in the province’s agriculture zone and is looking at how practices used in the North can be adapted and improved for the southern areas.

“In the past there have been a lot of harvesters trained to harvest various products and wild foods but there has been difficulty getting them to market, as many buyers don’t want to purchase in small amounts,” said James. “But, we have certainly seen a market for these products and as consumers move more towards natural products, we expect the demand to increase.”

WAM believes that creating a co-operative would be the ideal solution.

Participants of the consultations said rather than a large co-operative they prefer forming a small collective where harvesters could get training, collect materials and share equipment.

“Through the feedback I have received, I really believe that the development of a co-operative is critical in getting this industry to take off,” said James. “We are suggesting that there is a need for one or two smaller co-operatives in Manitoba that would be a resource to sell these products.”

Upon conclusion of the meetings, WAM is expected to complete a report outlining the validity of harvesting and marketing wild foods in Manitoba by the end of May.

The organization will also look at the possibility of developing an assessment tool to assist landowners in determining what is currently growing on their land and what their land is best suited for.

“Following the consultation and report we are hoping to gain further funding in order to develop an assessment tool, create training sessions to inform people what they can grow on their property and how to harvest in a sustainable way and look to create a pilot co-operative to see if this would improve the validity of bringing these materials to market,” said James.

Anyone interested in growing or harvesting wild foods is encouraged to visit woodlotmanitoba.com or send questions and comments by email to [email protected].

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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