Ethical Value and Market Value in a Canadian Wild Food Network

Regions: Dehcho Region, North Slave Region, South Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, traditional food, socio-economics, ethnography, economic feasibility, mushroom, environmental feasibility

Principal Investigator: Gordon, Dylan (1)
Licence Number: 15092
Organization: Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto
Licenced Year(s): 2012
Issued: Jun 18, 2012
Project Team: Dylan Gordon (Researcher , University of Toronto)

Objective(s): To determine how harvesters of wild mushrooms operating in the Northwest Territories find, harvest, process and sell them; and to determine how this process impacts the social, environmental and economic interests of local communities and the land.

Project Description: This research has two goals: 1) to determine how harvesters of wild mushrooms operating in the Northwest Territories find, harvest, process and sell them; and, 2) to determine how this process impacts the social, environmental and economic interests of local communities and the land.

The method is called ethnographic participant observation. This means to observe the actions of the study participants, in order to learn from them about what they do and why they do it. Notes will be taken of what is observed and experienced. The notes will then be analyzed to produce a report detailing what happens, and how, and why, in a way that respects people’s own interpretations of their lives and actions.

For this project, the principal researcher will participate in and observe the activities of those who are engaged in wild mushroom harvesting in the NWT. This includes working with NWT businesspeople at their places of business in urban areas, where they process and sell wild food products, as well as observing them as they harvest mushrooms in the bush. As part of this participant observation, the principal researcher will also have the opportunity to observe encounters between these local residents and non-locals who are engaged in the harvest and buying of wild mushrooms, and ask questions about the history of these relationships, such as about activities and controversies in past seasons.

The principal researcher will also use semi-structured interviewing to interview people related to the harvest of wild mushroom products, such as politicians, forestry managers and enforcement officers, as well as municipal and band officials.

Wild foods are foods found on the land, like mushrooms and berries. They are also known as non-timber forest products. Harvesting these items provides sustainable seasonal income for members of rural communities across Canada. Aside from being sources of casual cash, harvesting wild foods can also be a way to get more connected to the land and, for some, to traditional subsistence cultures.

This research project will help local communities understand the trade in wild mushrooms within the Northwest Territories in particular. Who harvests mushrooms here? How do they do so? How are the mushrooms brought to market? What kind of prices do they fetch? This sort of information is useful for locals who might want to enter this line of work, and for communities looking for sustainable forms of resource development.

This research project will provide detailed information about these aspects of the trade in wild mushrooms in the Northwest Territories, including what the possibilities for local communities to benefit from this trade are, how to access them, what the problems are, and how to minimize them. Educating local communities about how to benefit economically from this resource, it will also help to find ways to address the social and environmental challenges of the seasonal migration of non-local pickers and buyers of mushrooms into the Northwest Territories. Finally, this initial research project will set the stage for the principal researcher and others to do further research into these issues in future seasons, a pressing need given that there is very little research on the wild mushroom industry in Canada’s north. I hope over time to use my knowledge and connections to work with these communities to develop this industry in ways that benefit local interests.

The results of this study will be communicated in multiple forms: in the principal researchers written thesis, in academic papers and presentations, and in various informal reports. These are written in plain English and used in training local communities in the harvest and sale of wild food and non-timber forest products.

All of the research reports and publications will be posted on the principal researchers personal website, and will also have copies sent of the completed thesis, academic papers and informal reports by mail to communities and individuals who are interested in receiving them.

While in the NWT conducting this research, the principal investigator will visit band offices or other community offices to meet local community leaders, and, if there is interest, schedule a community presentation on how the wild mushroom harvest works, to take place while in the area.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from June 1, 2012 to August 31, 2012.