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MORAN: There is food at your feet in the Southern Interior forest

Foraging in a Southern Interior forest in B.C.
September 14, 2016 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


‘Non-timber forest product' is a new name for something I have known for a long time. This term refers to edible, medicinal and decorative products harvested from B.C.'s forests; everything except the trees themselves.

I make my living harvesting and selling wild mushrooms from the mountains and valleys of Southern B.C. The decorative products can include moss, boxwood, fir and pine boughs for Christmas, pinecones, salal (a coastal shrub), and whatever else is pretty and desirable in the flower industry. Medicinal products can include herbaceous plants, Labrador tea (wild rhododendron), rosehips, and reishi mushrooms.

An unfortunate fact is for the majority of our population, the forest is just a bunch trees. The idea the forest can produce something other than lumber has been around forever but the idea is going mainstream as more people are visibly harvesting and living on forest products. This is all without ending the lives of trees or animals.

The value of our forests is calculated in dollars per acre, per harvest. I am not up to date on the numbers, but just for a quick example I will throw out a few. Let's say forested land can be harvested and sold at $1000/acre. This can happen once every 40 to 80 years. Now let's say non-timber forest products could be harvested at $100-$300/acre. This can happen every year. I did just make these numbers up, but I have no doubt that they could be very realistic. In eight weeks an experienced mushroom forager can easily produce hundreds of dollars worth of fungi from a healthy acre of rainforest.

Now please take the time to consider the impact of each activity. If we embrace the idea of a wild harvest and the government does not regulate the industry out of existence, we could have an economic and environmental revolution. It is always worth mentioning that more time spent consuming and harvesting wild foods will increase our physical health, mental health, and happiness.

For eight weeks in September and October I will be living in the woods across from Nakusp on Arrow Lake. I am not the only mushroom picker in the woods, and together we make a temporary community. My neighbours at camp have all been harvesting for at least twenty years. Their lifestyle is a struggle, comparable to the lifestyle of a gold miner. There are a lot of up and downs for pickers living in the bush. These people all live a nomadic life. During winter, they either live in somewhere in rural B.C., or they migrate to the US to continue harvesting. In the spring they fire up the vans, pack up the dehydrators, and hit the road in search of morel mushrooms.

We are all working together to get local mushrooms to local markets and make sure the middleman doesn't take away our opportunity. Mushroom buyers will almost always drop their prices in unison, making a collective monopoly. When you are camped in a remote area, the buyers have all the power. It is up to the pickers to find alternate markets and get real value for their product. The wilds of B.C. produce the best food in the world (as well as many other useful and sustainable non-food items). More often we can trace the vegetables on our plate in a restaurant to the local farm that produced them. This same reverence for local wild crops is just around the corner.


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