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Morel marketer dedicated
Plenty of mushrooms for everyone, says Fort Providence buyer

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mushroom days are over for morel harvesters and buyers around Fort Providence as the season comes to a close.

NNSL photo/graphic

Fort Providence resident Jessica Minoza spent the summer purchasing morel mushrooms from pickers. Minoza, 27, is pictured here with Riel Stevenson-Burke taking a break from mushroom picking during the 2014 season. - photo courtesy of Jessica Minoza

But for local buyer Jessica Minoza, the exciting part has only begun.

Minoza, 27, and her partner Ryan O'Flynn are in the final stages of getting their morel-selling business off the ground. This summer marked Minoza's first season as a buyer.

Her business began earlier this year after she received a $5,000 grant from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) for her business plan. She aimed to have morel buying stations set up across the Deh Cho to buy the prized mushroom, which could then be dried and sold at a profit.

"It was a change (from picking). It was a lot of work, but it was good work. I knew what to do and I had some people who had been doing this their whole lives give me some tips," she said.

She went out picking a few times this summer as well, and said she was pleased with the harvest. Most of her time, however, was spent buying.

"Everybody is going to have something different to say based on their experiences. For myself, it went really well and I'm happy with the end result," she said.

"I had a lot of good pickers who wanted to sell to me because I was local."

Minoza kept her buying prices to around $7 to $8 per pound of mushrooms, slightly higher than other buyers.

Over the summer, she learned how to grade the morels and decide what she would and would not purchase. After they were dried, they had to be sorted again and re-graded.

She also learned different methods of drying the mushrooms.

The summer was hectic and not without its bumps. Although Minoza and O'Flynn initially had investors interested from NAIT, some of those fell through, leaving her scrambling to raise funds so she could carry out her plan of setting up buying stations.

Family and friends came through, though, and the summer was a success.

"Next year, I want to develop a small, professional team with experience and dedicated pickers for the NWT, and we'll all go out as a team to set up buying stations," she said. "This summer we had to make some big changes very quickly ... it became quite stressful. It meant there was a lot more work for each individual, but in the end we pulled through."

Unfortunately, losing some funding meant she and O'Flynn could not be large buyers.

"I really wanted to be. It gave the upper hand to people who weren't from the NWT," she said.

"There weren't enough buyers, though, so there was not a whole lot of competition. There were enough mushrooms for everyone."

She has also been working on a consignment basis with pickers in the Yukon and the NWT, who will receive up to twice as much money for their harvest once she sells their mushrooms.

"I'm grateful to them. It works better for the pickers and builds trust in the business with the community," she said. "I gained a lot of new knowledge about this business and I know every year I do it I'm going to keep learning."

Earlier this summer the territorial Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment shared predictions of a record harvest in 2015.

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