A morel mushroom harvest to rival the world over is anticipated to flood the territory with pickers, buyers and millions in cash this summer following the worst fire season on record last year.
“This is going to be the biggest morel harvest in the history of the world,” longtime picker Walter Brown of Yellowknife announced – with more than a hint of excitement – to a lively group of entrepreneurial Fort Smithers late last month.
“There could be as much as $100 million worth this summer in the NWT.”
Brown and Scott McQueen of the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) recently completed a tour of the South Slave, stopping in each community to give informational sessions on how individuals can get involved and make money off what is sure to be a booming industry come May.
“There could be 2,000 people showing up this summer, and most of those people will be between Fort Providence and Behchoko,” Brown said, using a map to show the 120-km stretch of burned area along Highway 3 that last year was the massive Birch Creek fire complex.
With professional pickers and cash-laden buyers from across the country already eyeing up the territory as a quick money-maker this year, ITI is trying to encourage as many Northerners as possible to get in on the action and ensure some of that money stays in the NWT.
Last year, the department equipped people in the Dehcho with the knowledge necessary to become part of the harvest, and Brown said the return to the local economy was $1.5 million.
“That’s in the hands of local people,” Brown said.
The beauty of the operation is that it is truly free enterprise, Brown said. With just a pail, a paring knife and some motivation, pickers can clear $500 or more a day, tax-free. On good days last year, Brown said pickers in the Dehcho could make over $1,000 for one day’s work.
“It’s something you can take pride in, that you do yourself,” he said.
Brown said the easiest way for beginners to get involved is to sell the fresh mushrooms on site to a buyer, typically at $10 a pound. Those buyers then do the more difficult drying work needed to sell them to the international market.
But for those who want to put in the extra effort to make even more cash, the department is offering instruction on how to set up independent drying operations, allowing pickers to make twice as much selling their harvest online – especially around Christmas.
“The world market is never satisfied, so if you have morels, you will always be able to sell,” Brown said.
The department also anticipates certain communities will be able to make side money off the industry by providing services, like road-side gas, food and water, to pickers and buyers.
Though the start of the season will depend on a number of factors, like spring moisture, Brown estimates morels should be ripe for the taking by the third week of May until around mid-July, or six weeks.
During that time, buyers will be at virtually every fire site in the territory looking for pickers. Where there are pickers and no buyers, Brown said the department is in contact with reputable buyers and will step in to point them in the right direction, ensuring no community is left out of the game.
Buyers are anticipated to flood the Highway 3 area, as well as the area around Kakisa. Though Wood Buffalo National Park makes much of the burn area around Fort Smith off limits, one area around Little Buffalo Falls shows promise, as well as that around Tsu Lake for the more ambitious fly-out pickers.
The GNWT is also in conversation with the Tlicho Government about support for moving dried mushrooms out of the primarily fly-in region this summer.
Aside from the orientation seminars, the GNWT will be distributing a morel picker’s handbook for free throughout the territory and will be setting up camps in the burn areas during picking season to offer training and assistance to local harvesters.
Work is also underway to amend the NWT Forest Management Act to allow for the regulation of mushrooms to ensure local people benefit most from the Northern resource.5 comments