Learn how to harvest, prepare local wild food

Noojmowin Teg’s Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing, or Turtle Island Roots program is hosting a series of workshops around Manitoulin this weekend that will showcase the many edible foods that grow in this region. Participants will learn about sustainable harvesting, identifying edible plants and learn some of the traditional teachings associated with the many species. Following a hike to collect materials, the group will head indoors for a cooking demonstration where they will learn what to do with their fresh foods. photo by Bnehns Gordon-Corbiere

MANITOULIN – Noojmowin Teg Health Centre is running a series of three workshops this weekend to teach participants about the many species of edible plants that are native to this area, as well as tips and techniques of how to harvest and prepare them from culinary experts.

“Our facilitator Karen will be guiding them through the trails, talking about the medicinal properties of the plants they see as well as the sustainable harvest of the plants. Participants are welcome to pick the plants they see,” said Noojmowin Teg’s interim Indigenous foods co-ordinator Bnehns Gordon-Corbiere. 

The facilitator she mentioned is Karen Stephenson, a frequent summer visitor to Manitoulin Island and wild food educator who manages EdibleWildFood.com. She is a chartered herbalist and attended Lakehead University’s Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program.

Ms. Stephenson will be overseeing the first hour of the two-hour event, taking participants on a guided walk on the trails. However, Ms. Gordon-Corbiere noted that there will be significant off-trail deviations and advised participants to dress for rough terrain. The trip should be suitable for all skill levels of hikers.

In the second hour, the group will reconvene at a community kitchen. There, Noojmowin Teg child nutrition co-ordinator Cody Leeson will show the group how they can turn their harvest into a healthy and delicious meal.

“Cody and I have gone out throughout this week to collect morels, fiddleheads and wild leeks. Those are the main ingredients so far,” said Ms. Gordon-Corbiere. She added that she was hoping to get local elders to visit the three events to speak at greater length about the traditions associated with the collected foods.

These wild edible walk-and-talks are running as part of Noojmowin Teg’s Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing (Turtle Island Roots) program, an initiative that’s part of the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative and grouped within the health centre’s Child Poverty Task Force. It receives financial support through the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s fund to reduce poverty in communities.

These initiatives promote food sovereignty, improve access to fresh food and create community-based systems.

“Providing a workshop of this nature allows Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing to promote, support and sustain the Indigenous Food Sovereignty movement being driven within the communities of Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island) and the surrounding district,” said Ms. Gordon-Corbiere.

Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing provides spaces in which communities can gather, share and learn about traditional ways to sustainably harvest, honour and prepare fresh foods sourced from area forests, fields and waterways.

“These traditions have supported and sustained our communities and our ecosystem for thousands of years. Celebrating and transferring knowledge to community members is one way Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing supports the mission of the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative,” said Ms. Gordon-Corbiere.

Indigenous foods co-ordinator Courtney Kurek, who is currently on leave from Noojmowin Teg, had sent out a survey to First Nations on the Island to see in which activities they might have an interest. The three communities taking part in these hikes—M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning and Sheshegwaning—showed the most interest in foraging and wild edibles.

“They also represent the west, centre and eastern parts of Manitoulin so people from all over can attend,” said Ms. Gordon-Corbiere.

These walks form only one stage of Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing. Ms. Gordon-Corbiere said the health centre hopes to compile all the gathered knowledge into a resource book. It is also working on creating a website solely focused on sourcing, harvesting and celebrating foods indigenous to the Manitoulin area.

The first workshop runs this Friday, May 17 at the M’Chigeeng Hiking Trail (located behind the ball field) at 5 pm. On Saturday, May 18, the hike visits Aundeck Omni Kaning, starting at 1 pm at the water treatment plant. Sheshegwaning hosts the walk and talk on Monday, May 20 at 1 pm on Nimkee’s Hiking Trail, with the meeting point being the trailhead near Nishin Lodge. 

Anyone looking for further information may refer to the contact information in the advertisement on Page 17 of this newspaper.