Valuing Forest Foods
Ontario Nature understands that forest foods provide a wealth of benefits to many northern communities: Local food sources underpin traditional economies that permit economic self-reliance; they provide health benefits through improved nutrition and promotion of active lifestyles; and they reduce the environmental costs of food grown with intensive inputs elsewhere and transported large distances to reach northern communities. The local economic benefit of reducing transportation of food is an emerging consideration in northern Ontario as fuel prices continue to rise globally.
For many, the forests of northern Ontario are synonymous with timber. This video unearths the underappreciated value of forest foods – wild mushrooms, fiddleheads, blueberries, boreal teas, and boreal birch syrup. Follow Ontario Nature, the True North Community Coop, and Environment North as they grow the forest food movement in the north. Northerners are enjoying delicious and nutritious foods, the region is more self-sufficient, and the environment is better off.
Mark Bell of Aroland First Nation tells the story of the blueberry initiative, where community youth have developed economic opportunities from non-timber forest values. Joe Baxter and other professional foragers make the case for taking food from the forest to the plate. As Baxter says, "If it's good for the bears, it's good for us.”
With generous support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Mountain Equipment Co-op, we are researching how the health of forest food systems can serve as a good indicator of the ecological integrity of the ecosystem as a whole and how forest food planning can support northern communities. Instability in game populations, loss of water filtering via wild rice beds, and other changes to forest food systems can predict stress on natural food webs and ecosystems.
Read about Ontario Nature's work to strengthen the local food movement in northern communities in the Summer issue of ON Nature magazine here.