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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - February 11, 1975, Lethbridge, Alberta LETHBRIOGE February 11, 1975 Wild rice in Ontario CANOE CROP HARVEST CAN EARN UP TO A DAY TORONTO (CP) Only about 10 per cent of a vast, rich wild rice crop in northwestern Ontario is be- ing harvested, a fact that bothers Kenora businessman Ben Ratuski. Mr. Ratuski, 39, is the owner- president of Shoal Lake Wild Rice Ltd. that last year sold pounds of the gourmet rice at a pound wholesale. "We buy all we can he said in an interview. "But we can't get enough, although it's a wild crop and there for the taking. Mr. Ratuski estimates that the potential crop is 10 million pounds a year, spread across acres of shallow bays in the Kenora and Lake of The Woods areas. Of this amount, only 1.2 million pounds was harvested in 1973 last year was a bad crop year by Ojibwa Indians who .have exclusive harvesting rights in the bays under provincial regulation. His Shoal Lake firm received pounds of the harvested crop, with the remainder sold by the Indians to buyers in Manitoba and Minnesota. It takes three pounds of the grain to produce one pound of the finish- ed rice product. Development urged Mr. Ratuski said because of the richness of the resource, pressure is being applied on the provincial government to fully develop it. He said the province is con- sidering licensing all residents of the area, not just Indians, to pick the crop. Under the plan, the about live in the would be given first choice of jobs in bad crop years. In a good year, about 800 Indians work in the bays to harvest the rice during the one-month, fall picking season. "The Indians are only taking about 10 per cent of the potential Mr. Ratuski said. As long as only Indians are permitted to harvest the rice, crop yields would not change appreciably. The crop is harvested from a canoe. On good days, two pickers can net to a day. Wild rice retails for to a pound, depending on where it is bought in Canada, except in Kenora where it sells for Started in 1925 Mr. Ratuski took over the business from his father, Peter, who started trading in wild rice in 1925. "I was born into the wild rice business." His father, who died eight years ago, was a grocer who was introduced to the industry when he bought a warehouse full of rice from speculators for four cents a pound. Unable to find a buyer, he was forced to keep the rice in storage for one year when he finally found a Minnesota speculator who gave him six cents a pound for the entire lot. "My dad thought he had really, made a Mr. Ratuski recalled. "But three weeks later, another. Minnesota buyer offered him 10 cents, and his face dropped. From then on, he was hooked." "At that time7 the Indians harvested the rice mainly for their own use as a food he said. "They would roast it on an open fire and then dance on it to take off the husks." Today, the rice is processed in a modern plant at Keewatin, near Kenora.- Although the firm sells in Canada and exports to Germany, Britain and France, Mr. Ratuski said the job of developing markets has only begun. "The potential market is world- wide and unlimited." His firm has only recently developed a canned product of ready to serve wild rice which "is going to be our big product because it is so convenient." One of his chief problems has been to educate people to dis- tinguish wild rice from ordinary rice. 'Nutty flavor' "Wild rice has a distinctive nutty he said. "But the difference is actually in the food value. Wild rice is high in protein while white rice is not." A recent trend in Manitoba and Minnesota, where the bays are not as numerous or of similar quality as in the Kenora district, has been towards cultivating the grain. About 80 per cent of Minnesota's production now is cultivated. Mr. Ratuski said there is also a big difference in the quality of his firm's product and the cultivated wild rice. But the cultivated product is still being called wild rice by his competitors. "To counter this, I'm seriously thinking of changing all our labels and calling our product wild, wild rice. That has a pretty good con- notation that our product is really wild." By JOE DUPUIS, CP Business Editor ;