Got Milkweed?: natural resource to become local industry

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by: 

Kate Aley

Generally considered a pleasing wildflower at best and an annoying and insidious weed at worst, common North American Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is about to be reborn as a profitable, wild-harvested crop. What hasn’t changed is its indisputable role as the single food source for the incredible and tenacious Monarch Butterfly.

Bringing about this renaissance in the Outaouais is a new non-profit organisation, Nature Atout (NA), based in Wakefield.

In 2003, Michel Leclair, now president of NA and his friend (and subsequent NA coordinator) Pierre Bordeleau were wondering how to make use of the large amount of fallow agricultural land, forest verges, ditches and roadsides lying seemingly unused.

Their goal was to identify a niche market for a crop that would not require conventional cultivation methods, such as ploughing and the use of pesticides and herbicides, while creating a new local economy. It was Leclair who discovered American company Monarch Flyway (MF) and pursued them so intently that the Nebraska-based owners finally had to take notice.

*correction: please see comments*

Last year, impressed by Leclair’s enthusiasm, MF asked if 5,000 kg of milkweed seed and silk could be gathered. Over a few short weeks and with very little time to prepare, NA were able to collect and deliver 6,000 kg.  Founder Herb Knudsen and his daughter Debbie Dekleva came to the Outaouias region last week for a three-day investigative trip, enabling them to assess the suitability of La Peche as a site for harvesting and to eventually become a Canadian base for the company.

Monarch Flyway was created 30 years ago by Knudsen. Deklava has been working for the company since high school. The company currently utilize Milkweed seeds for a topical pain-relief cream (Milkweed Balm) and the silk for insulation for bedding (Ogallala Comfort Company). They consider milkweed a “low-volume, high-value” crop.

Milkweed Balm, one of the products made from Milkweed by Monarch Flyway.

On July 20, an official agreement between NA and MF was signed at the Wakefield Belvedere in a ceremony that was both moving and inspiring. Nature Atout is now officially been designated as the first MF partner outside the United States. Numerous sustainable harvest sites have been officially confirmed within the Municipality of La Peche.

The scene at Wakefield Belvedere.

“People often say, ‘Oh we have a lot of Milkweed here’,” said Deklava. “But what is ‘a lot’? That’s hard to define. However when we […] saw the sites Pierre and Michel had identified, we were able to say, ‘Yes, you have a lot of Milkweed!’”

Milkweed exists in many forms all over the world. The sap and seed from the plant have long been used in herbal remedies and the extraordinary properties of the silk have been utilized as recently as WWII.

More than satisfied by the number and density of Milkweed fields in the area, Knudsen and Deklava were also overwhelmed by the friendliness and eagerness of the people they met, and the political, financial and social goodwill they encountered.

From left, Pierre Bordleau for Nature Atout with Herb Knudsen and Debbie Deklava of Monarch Flyway at the Wakefield Belvedere on July 20.

“As you increase volume, you increase opportunities,” Deklava told the assembled group at the Belvedere. “In step two, we will increase the harvest and evaluation [in the region]. We hope to bring production into the Outaouais, into Quebec and Canada. That way the [products] can eventually be harvested, manufactured and sold here.”

Mayor of La Peche and Warden of the MRC des Collines Robert Bussiere was one of the dignitaries present for the event.

Robert Bussiere, Mayor of La Peche and Warden of MRC des Collines.

“When you really start looking [for Milkweed], you see it everywhere,” Bussiere said. “There are a lot of abandoned farms here and a lot of farmers who would like to see that old land maintained. It's job creation, it's income for this region but it’s also contributing to the protection of the Monarch.”

Indeed, at the heart of both MF and NA’s mandate is the protection and support of Milkweed and by extension, the Monarch butterfly. The species is considered under threat across North and South America due to loss of habitat. By creating a commercial market for Milkweed, attention and care for the plants will necessarily follow. Deklava describes the ideal balance as “a working Monarch habitat”.

Picking Milkweed seed will not affect reproduction of the plant. Knudsen says the plants increase via rhizomes, as the seed only has a two percent germination rate. “The best way to increase milkweed?” he said. “Run over it a few times with a disc. That cuts up the roots and stimulates growth and reproduction.”

Paramount is the ongoing identification of areas with strong population of Milkweed plants. NA has created a phone app that helps people photograph and record areas in which Milkweed is prevalent. The app can be downloaded at the NA site. The submitted information will help identify the best areas for commercial harvesting in the MRC des Collines and surrounding areas. Gaining authorization by landowners and recruiting careful and diligent picking teams is also a top priority this year.

For more information on Monarch Flyway’s mission and products for sale, go to monarchflyway.com

For information on Nature Atout, visit natureatout.org                           

Contact Pierre Bordeleau at (819) 459 2697 for information on Milkweed fields or forming a picking team for this year’s harvest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

Correction

it was Adele McKay, an environmental biologist working with Nature Atout as a consultant, who first established communications with Monarch Flyway in the course of her research and helped lay a great foundation for the subsequent partnership between the two organizations.

Pontiac2020.ca regrets the error.

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Nos autres nouvelles / Our other News

UPDATED: Quyon Community Centre

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●PUBLISHER'S NOTE: It was discovered after this update was published that the Municipality of Pontiac and the builder, Lalonde Cantin Construction (LCC), are locked in a dispute the full nature of which is unclear at this time. Despite multiple attempts to reach out to the Municipality, clarification of the causes of the dispute, as well as the dispute's influence on the completed project's delivery date or when the new community centre will open have not been forthcoming, and are therefore unknown. We continue to follow this story and we will bring you any updates as they become known.

Originally published on October 14th, 2018
under the headline
Work continues on Quyon Community Centre
by: Kate Aley

Everyone is watching the beautiful new Quyon Community Centre nearing completion with equal amounts of impatience and excitement. Final touch-ups on paint and drywall were being done as of last week, including finishing the stairs to the Mezzanine level.

Perfect waste management

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by: 

Sheila McCrindle

There is an old saying among environmentalist “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  This applies whenever solutions to environmental problems are being devised. Especially solutions involving human behaviour.  It means that just because a solution is not perfect does not mean it is not good.  Dealing with household organic waste is just such an example.

Free art classes: meet the teachers part 3

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by: 

Kate Aley


Get Art teacher Tanya McCormick, wearing some of her unique copper jewelry

Believe it or not, all of us have a naturally creative streak and these free art classes, hosted by the Municipality of Pontiac, are the perfect opportunity to dig into it. Next in our roster of Get Art teachers is Tanya McCormick who will be teaching on Saturday, October 27th at the Luskville Community Centre.

Free art classes: meet the teachers part 2

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by: 

Kate Aley

Get Art, the travelling art school based in the Pontiac, is fortunate to be able to offer all-ages classes again this year. Thanks to funding from the Municipality of Pontiac, the four classes across our three communities are absolutely free of charge for residents. 

Today we meet Luskville's Chantal Dahan who will be teaching printmaking in Breckenridge on Saturday, October 20th.

Free art classes for the municipality: meet the teachers

Categories: 

by: 

Kate Aley


Thanks to the generosty of the Municipality of Pontiac, four art classes are being offered to our community, absolutely free of charge. Details of the classes can be found in your fall activities bulletin, delivered in your mail box last week. Pontiac2020.ca interviewed the four teachers to find out more about the classes and the artists.

A Tale of Two Approaches

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by: 

Sheila McCrindle and Kevin Brady

See Also: When you live in a place without curbs, does it make sense to have ‘curbside’ collection of compost?

The MRC des Collines de Gatineau is comprised of 7 municipalities. The smallest Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette is small enough to be exempt from complying with the Provincial Residuals Strategy. The two most densely populated, Cantley and Chelsea, have respectively 83 and 60 people per square kilometre. These two municipalities also have the highest median household income by a considerable margin.

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