There’s more to find in the bush than meets the eye. That’s what Pierre Chevrier is betting on.

The Economic Development Advisor and Sustainable Development Officer for the James Bay Development Society (SDBJ) in Matagami, Chevrier is spearheading a pilot project that will champion the development of the mushroom in Eeyou Istchee and hopefully provide an economic windfall.

Besides the SDBJ, there are several other groups involved in the project, including the Chisasibi Business Service Centre (CBSC), the Grand Council of the Cree, various economic development officers and Cree community leaders.

Two groups from the south are lending their support to the project with training and specific mushroom harvesting expertise, Gourmets Sauvage and the training and research centre Biopterre.

Chevrier is a firm believer in the future of this project that is looking into developing non-timber forest products. “Every year the SDBJ finds a research centre that will transfer some knowledge to the Cree and create opportunity within the territory. I found Biopterre, whose expertise is in non-timber forest products, and they told me that they had initiated a similar project in Chisasibi.”

Chevrier traveled to Chisasibi and met with Eric House, the CBSC’s General Manager, to see what was done last year and from their experience he fine-tuned his new project.

This year’s pilot project will focus on a narrow strip of land running alongside the James Bay Highway between Km 381 and Km 500, with Km 381 being the base camp. There a kitchen, a dryer, a freezer and other equipment will be set up.

“We want to do focus on all the necessary steps in the commercialization of mushrooms – the picking, the cleaning, the processing, the packaging and the shipping. Our goal is to train and certify at least five to eight Cree mushroom pickers. They would learn how to harvest the mushroom in a sustainable way, how to clean them, how to transform and how to ship them as well as how to maintain the hygiene in the kitchen.”

“With this project we want to show the Cree that there is an opportunity for them to live off the resource of the land and make a good salary. The mushroom is not a resource that was traditionally used by all the Cree, but it’s a resource used by the Japanese, the Chinese and the Koreans– and that’s where the markets are.”

Chervier said he has been in contact with the Cree Trappers Association, so that can inform all the trappers in the designated area, and the Eastmain Band Council and their Economic Development Officer. At the end of July, he will be doing a presentation to the EDOs from all the communities.

“The main goal is to provide information and concrete experience to the Cree of what type of work can be done with this resource. Our objective is to interest people in it and to set up a business model.

“We are hoping the trappers in the area will come and see what we are doing and what kind of work they could do with this and what kind of revenue they could expect.”

There are several edible varieties of mushrooms in the region, including the matsutake and the morel. However, the pilot project will only focus on the matsutake. “It is the one that has the greatest commercial potential. A picker would be paid $10 a kilo, and a good worker could pick 100 kilos a day, which means $1000 a day. But the season is short – it’s only four to five weeks. It’s from the end of August to the first frost, with a two-week peak in mid-September.”

While Quebec’s mushroom market is relatively new and small, Chevrier points to the market in British Columbia. “It’s existed for more than 30 years and is now providing 32,000 jobs and is valued at $250 million. In Alaska and the Yukon, where they have the morel mushroom, it generates $15-20 million annual revenue.

“There is something interesting about the matsutake mushrooms found in Quebec. It turns out that their DNA is very close to the ones in Japan, even closer than those grown in B.C. and the Yukon. This means the Japanese market would be extremely interested.”

Chevrier stated, “Our goal is to attract as many people as we can to this project. We want to get the message about the project out there so that people will get in touch with us. It would great to have an individual participate from each community. They would do four weeks of training and it is funded by the Cree Human Resources Development (CHRD).”

Anyone interested participating in the mushroom project can contact Chevrier directly at 819 739-4717, ext. 246.