“There are old mushroom pickers and there are bold mushroom pickers, but there are no old, bold mushroom pickers.”
I recently took a trip to La Ronge to attended the second annual Walk in the Woods conference, hosted by the Keewatin Career Development Corporation (KCDC)—an organization that provides services to enhance career and economic development in northern Saskatchewan.
The two-day conference brought in attendees and presenters from all over the prairies to provide insight and training around the potential of Non-timber Forest Products (NTFP) in northern Saskatchewan.
The NTFP industry is a developing sector of Saskatchewan’s economy and much of its recent growth and development can be attributed, in part, to the success of the first Walk in the Woods event.
From well-known products such as wild rice, mushrooms and blueberries, to new items like cattail hearts and specialty teas, there has been a great increase in interest for natural products coming from the boreal forest.
For its second year, the event focused on teaching participants about the healing properties of fungus, as well as how to identify poisonous plant life.
During the classroom component, we learned how to stay safe when gathering fungi and plants. We also learned how to identify environmental risks like over-harvesting, toxins from landfills and safety risks like nearby highways.
Following the presentations, we had three different options for the actual “Walk in the Woods” component of our day.
1. Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms with Robert Rogers.
2. Woodland Cree Traditional Use Of Plants with Eleanor Hegland.
3. Lac La Ronge Indian Band Culture Days and Tour of a Wild Rice Processing Plant.
Although the decision was tough, I chose to hop in the bus with Eleanor Hegland to learn how the Woodland Cree used plants—not only because it seemed interesting but because during Eleanor’s presentation I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. She had a great sense of humour and I knew it would be a fun, informative afternoon.
As our crew hiked along Lac La Ronge Provincial Park’s Nut Point Trail, Eleanor stopped often to explain not only the uses of each plant, but to share memories from her childhood of living off the land.
It was an incredible experience and I can now identify three berries that can kill me and a handful of plants that will make me stronger. I also learned how itchy the seed in a rose bud can be, which will certainly make for an interesting prank on my next camping trip with friends.
After listening to the event’s presenters, and getting to know some of the amazing people who’ve dedicated so much time to this industry, there is no doubt in my mind that northern Saskatchewan is well on its way to benefiting from these new and developing markets.
Thanks for reading.