Harvesting guidelines

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There may only be few formal laws and regulations to follow when you harvest foods from Ontario’s forests and wetlands – there are however many essential social, environmental and business norms that govern the forest food sector. Consider the following rules and good practices for your Ontario harvest:

Social Harvesting Guidelines

Respect property rights: Be aware of the property rights that pertain to the lands you harvest on. Always ask permission before harvesting foods from lands that are privately owned and lands which belong to or are used by Ontario’s Aboriginal communities (you can read how to go about this here). While crown lands do not have (legal) harvesting restrictions, these lands are the traditional territories of Aboriginal people. Do not assume you have access to foods growing on Crown Land but always first consult and obtain consent from the people to whom this land belongs. Contrary to what the notion of “wild harvested” foods may suggest about the open access of its source, patches of food, while not cultivated are cared for and the privilege of its harvest is granted to a certain village, a family or the elders in a community.

Besides Crown Land and private land, Ontario has 6 National Parks and more than 330 provincial parks that together account for a total of 9 million hectares of protected land. On these lands the harvest of food or the removal of any natural object is prohibited unless prior permission from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has been obtained.

Golden Rule: “Local resources for local people” (Manitoba guide). Forest and freshwater resources should be developed to the benefit of people who are local to the area of harvest (ACCHF, 2007). Harvesting and processing wild foods can contribute to income generating opportunities and the economic diversification of rural communities – in your wild crafting practice maximize local benefits through training and partnerships (ACCHF, 2007).

Good Practice: Avoid harvesting in ways that leave visual marks. This means you should avoid harvesting around picnic areas, trails, roadsides and the edges of lakes.

Environmental Harvesting Guidelines

Definition Sustainable Wild Harvest: “Harvesting whole or parts of wild products using methods and in amounts that do not impact the long-term productivity and viability of populations, species, or their ecosystems so that they are available in the same quantities for use by future generations.” (Manitoba code of ethics, p. 2)

Safeguard Sustainability of species and the ecosystems in which they grow: The sustainability of some wild harvested foods can only be guaranteed when the amounts harvested are kept to a small portion of what is available. For example, one should not harvest more than 5% of the total wild leek patch found. Here (link: Jonathan) you can read more about sustainable harvesting methods for specific foods and here (link: to 2. resources) you find a list of edible species in Ontario that should not be harvested at the moment.

It is not enough to only keep the sustainability of the foods you harvest in mind: The well-being of the entire ecosystem has to be considered. Birds and other animals are feasting on forest foods too and you may disturb them with your presence or excessive harvest.

Golden rule: “Only harvest what you need.” A simple rule when harvesting forest and freshwater foods is to gather only as much as you need or as much as you can market so as to avoid waste.

Good practice: Keep a logbook when you are out harvesting and monitor any impact your activities have on the foods you forage and the ecosystem they grow in.

Ethical Business Standards

Maintain high standards of quality in your business practice – not only your reputation but the public perception of the wild food sector as a whole depends on it. By marketing only high quality products the value of the sector can be maximized and fair prices (link to section on fair prices) for harvesters, buyers and consumers can be encouraged. Make sure your products are safe: Harvested and processed in places that are clean and free from any potentially harmful pollutants or contaminants (Manitoba).

Golden rule: If you are harvesting commercially, be certain that the foods are of the quality expected by your buyer.

Good practice: Commit to learn more about wild-crafting and improve how you conduct your business (Manitoba guide) – socially and environmentally too and promote the sustainable harvest to others (ACCHF).

Evaluate your harvesting practice and inform yourself on how to care better for wild crafted foods, the environment and the sector. You can read more about the social and environmental concerns around harvesting forest and freshwater foods here:

  • Manitoba Wild Harvesters Association Code of Ethics (2004). This document can be accessed through Royal Roads University here.
  •  ACCHF – Code of Ethics, 2007 (www.acchf.ca)
  • Rural Opportunities Network: NTFP harvester handbook, 2008, p. 3-4 “III. Points to keep in mind”. Click here to access the handbook directly. 


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