The Institute for Sustainable Foraging, located in Traverse City, is the first organization in the country to create guidelines and offer certification for sustainably foraged goods.

Over the past few years, there has been a substantial rise in demand for ramps (wild leeks), fiddlehead ferns, various wild mushrooms and other foraged products for commercial and personal use. Due to the increase, there are growing concerns about people exploiting the resources and their long-term viability. Adding to the worries, little research currently exists on what constitutes sustainable harvesting practices.

In response to this concern, the Institute for Sustainable Foraging (ISF) was created in March.

Institute for Sustainable ForagingMuch like a product that’s certified organic, the ISF is working to establish a set of practices and standards for professional foragers to follow. People who choose to abide by those standards can have their products certified, which will allow them to use the ISF seal (pictured left) to identify their products as “Certified Sustainably Foraged.”

Brian Bourdages, the program manager at Tamarack Holdings, LLC—the company that owns a group of food businesses including Cherry Capital Foods, Earthy Delights, TLC Hydroponics and Up North Distributing—is serving as the interim executive director for the ISF as it’s developed.

Earthy Delights, located in Okemos, is one of the oldest companies providing specialty foods to the chef market, including foraged goods such as mushrooms and ramps. “Through our work, we became increasingly aware of concerns about providing foraged goods at a commercial level,” Brian says. “Earthy Delights is a large seller of ramps so it made sense for us to take the lead to create this nonprofit organization and certification process.”

The ISF will start by certifying ramps. The goal is to extend the certification program to other goods such as fiddlehead ferns and common mushroom varieties. To become certified, professional foragers must go through the standards with ISF staff, and if they are in compliance and agree to remain in compliance they’ll be allowed to use the seal. After receiving certification, there will be a third-party audit about every three years.

“Our hope is eventually, just like other certification programs like Fair Trade, for example, this will become the norm and consumers will demand sustainably foraged products, which will help reduce the number of people exploiting the resource,” Brian says. “The Institute and the work being done is a whole lot bigger than our group of companies and even our region.”

In May, Michigan will join a two-year, multistate study designed to better understand how ramps reproduce. The research is being done at Virginia Tech with help from the US Forest Service, North Carolina Arboretum and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. “By adding Michigan, researchers are able to add a whole different region of the country to the study where ramps are native and the population is more prolific,” Brian says. Results from the study will help the ISF to better assess their sustainable foraging standards.

5 Easy, Sustainable Foraging Rules for Ramps

  1. Wait until the plant is mature. Look for bright green, full leaves.
  2. Harvest from a location with a large population so you don’t deplete an area.
  3. Rather than digging up the entire ramp, snap off the bulb just above its base, leaving the very bottom of the bulb, the roots and any rhizome material in the ground.
  4. Don’t harvest an entire clump of ramps. Instead, just take two or three.
  5. If you’re foraging on public land, be conscious of rules regarding what’s allowed to be removed from the land. Also, recognize that others may be harvesting in the same location. Take extra care to not overharvest the area.

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Photo(s) by Institute for Sustainable Foraging