Coming to know through story: exploring the social economy of blueberry foraging in Northwestern Ontario
Master of Environmental Studies
DisciplineEnvironmental Studies : Northern Environments & Cultures
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Foraging for wild blueberries is part of the identity of many Northern Ontario residents. As far back as many people can remember their families have completed the annual trek out to the blueberry patch to harvest blueberries throughout the month of August while they are ripe for the picking. In this research, I explore these practices by answering the following research questions: how do blueberry foraging initiatives in Northwestern Ontario demonstrate properties of the social economy?; how do these properties support the continuation of blueberry harvesting?; and what barriers hinder the foraging of blueberries as a social economy in the region? Using complexity theory, the social economy of foraging for wild blueberries is explored within the boreal forest ecosystem. Four case studies are examined through a participant observation approach that uses semi-structured interviews with blueberry pickers. Blueberry foraging, which exists within the complex adaptive system of the boreal forest, was found to be its own complex adaptive system that adapts to a constantly changing environment. Through blueberry foraging, interviewees were found to gain connections to the land and to each other. How these connections were expressed was impacted by the social and cultural values of individuals and communities. What appeared to remain consistent was the ability of the relational values associated with the social economy to support adaptation; thus, building resilience among blueberry foraging initiatives in Northern Ontario.