People are getting antsy waiting for morels to poke out of the ground, but the manager of traditional economies for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment maintains that it’s early yet.
“The key is whether or not mother nature co-operates,” said John Colford. “The first bloom is more about ground water than rain, and we’re still waiting for the big, profitable mushrooms to come up.”
Still, this hasn’t stopped pickers from flocking to the bush between McNallie Creek and Kakisa, camping out along the highway and bringing their hauls to buyers set up along the way.
“We’re about a week and half early,” said buyer Frederick John last Thursday. “There are lots of people coming from Hay River and Fort Simpson, it’s good to see locals out on weekends.”
John said he is seeing between 10 and 15 cars from the territory every weekend, each one carrying three or four people. Colford said he counted about 100 pickers along that patch of highway the night before.
“There’s a concern that the government has raised the profile of this and wouldn’t it be a shame if it turned out there were no mushrooms,” he said. “But it’s early, there is groundwater, and the sheer size of the burn area make that seriously unlikely.”
Colford said the beauty of the harvest is that, despite being hard, dirty, work, it’s something anyone can do with very little prior training. The start-up costs are a bucket and a small knife.
“This is the first big round,” he said. “By next year, we’ll know the rhythm of it and we won’t miss a beat. It’s just the newness of it right now.”
The GNWT has been promoting the projected massive crop of morel mushrooms this summer both at home and in the rest of Canada in the hopes of driving a new industry for the season. Colford said the information being distributed asked buyers to leave their crews at home as there is a work-force ready and willing already here. He said between 3,000 and 4,000 people in the territory are primarily involved in the traditional economy.
“There’s a rhythm to the traditional economy, and every step pays for the next; trapping in the winter pays for fishing in the spring and so on,” he said. “We always want to be adding another beat to that rhythm, another chance for people to make money to reinvest.”