Wild edible plants in Nova Scotia: Food tourism environmental scan

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Ruhl, Jillian
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Background: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines wild edible plants (WEP) as “Plants that grow spontaneously in self-maintaining populations in natural or semi-natural ecosystems and can exist independently of direct human action.” There is a growing interest in tapping the repertoire of WEP for entrepreneurial initiatives, particularly within food tourism as a resurgence of local traditional heritage. Food tourism is receiving growing attention for many reasons, including changing consumer needs, increasing environmental awareness, enhancing cultural identity and place branding, and economic and social sustainability. These trends set the stage for WEP to develop into new biological resources that promote food diversity, crop resilience, and the potential to enhance connections with nature and conservation of wilderness areas containing WEP. Purpose: To describe the practices and perspectives of food tourism business owners/managers involved with WEP in Nova Scotia (NS), for the purpose of exploring how values attached to WEP shape and are shaped by practices. Method: Using qualitative descriptive inquiry, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with food tourism business owners and operators to examine and describe food tourism practices involving WEP. Thematic analysis employing a relational framework informed by political ecology theory provided insight into how food tourism practices involving WEP influenced participants’ relationships with nature (biophysical and sociocultural), values driving actions of stewardship and gathering practices for business, and how activities are affected by and may contribute to local culture. Results: Interviews with ten food tourism operators (chefs, herbalists, and tour guides) were conducted in the summer and fall of 2019. Participants used ten to over 200 WEP in a variety of products and services. Several relational themes emerged from the interviews and captured the ways that food tourism influenced relationships with nature and the values inherent in practices: childhood upbringing, education and training, sense of place, promoting regional food heritage, ecological knowledge and awareness, business and WEP sustainability, and systems of governance. Each theme told a story of a connective web where WEP in diverse ecosystems (past and present) influences the values and knowledge within food tourism practices and WEP in diverse ecosystems. Implications: The participants in this study could be considered early adopters of profit-based WEP activities in the province of NS. By telling the “story” of WEP utilized through food tourism, it is possible to use tourism owners’ perspectives and development of products and services to boost local knowledge, connection, and value of wilderness areas containing WEP. The main value of this research is the contribution of knowledge to the study of WEP through the implementation of food tourism practices in NS. This research provides an understanding of how WEP and values-based experiences connect individuals to their food and environment. Illuminating knowledge of WEP and transdisciplinary work in nutrition and ecology could help to inform policy, encourage research and development, and investments in this underexplored area. Conclusion and Recommendations: Participation in both formal and informal economic activities involving WEP revealed some of the motives behind commercial and non-commercial practices. To varying extents of influence (reaching relatively small audiences and mobilized as material or immaterial products and services), food tourism practices involving WEP can contribute to social and ecological resilience. Recommendations focus on reevaluating the way we understand ourselves, culture, and WEP within the ecological web of nature. Further research is needed to understand the cultural reaches of niche wild food and tourism markets for making a difference to the built environments and socio-economics of communities (even if through a multiplier effect). It could also assist in implementing policies and licensing that promote conservational strategies for WEP. Additional research is also warranted to explore guests’ experiences and whether and how they adopt WEP practices.
Wild edible plants , Nova Scotia , Food tourism , Tourism , Ecology