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Sustainability

Making Jams and Jellies for the Red Lake Nation

David Manuel has worked with local foods and food sovereignty on the Red Lake Nation for several years. He has worked with 4 Directions Development, Red Lake Traditional Foods, has helped till gardens, hand out seeds and vegetables and also started his own business based on gathering wild food and making jams, jellies, and maple candies called Muskrat’s Specialty Foods.

Recently Red Lake Nation Foods bought Minnestalgia in McGregor, and as part of that process David, who is an independent contractor, has been learning much more about making fruit jellies and jams and syrups.

We caught up with David as he was heading out of town to make a delivery for Red Lake Nation Fishery. That’s just one of the jobs he juggles in order to maintain his lifestyle, which he describes as varied and busy.

He explained how he got started working with food in Red Lake: “I just happened to have a big garden, you know, that produces rather well. That, along with doing the maple sugaring in the spring and the wild rice in the fall – all with a traditional emphasis - mainly because I don't have the capacity or the money to purchase larger equipment.”

David described his current project with Red Lake Nation Foods as an “apprenticeship” with long-time Minnestalgia jam and jelly maker, Mike Burr, but said he got his start making crab apple jelly with his dad. “That was my first experience making jellies. I just kind of messed around off and on having fun, you know, growing up. And then last year, I decided to venture off on my own. I started making jellies out of fruit that had been harvested by Red Lake members. I was kinda doing my own little thing. And then as the berry season was over, I started making more jellies from juices I bought in Bemidji, mostly from Harmony Food Co-op, because they're organic. I'm kind of kind of fussy about that. I really want to put out a quality product.

“And that's also the same with the Red Lake Nation Foods’ jam and jelly and syrup operations. There's no additives or preservatives other than pectin. And citric acid, as a preservative.”

David Manuel is training to become the new master jelly maker for the Red Lake Nation Foods operation. The project started at the commercial kitchen operated by Harmony Food Co-op in Bemidji, but all the equipment has been moved to Four Directions Development in Red Lake.

“Now everything will be made in-house in Red Lake and creating jobs as well; the first one being the one I'm doing,” David explained. “And then, as time goes on, as we expand our capacity and seek markets that we haven't tapped yet, it will just continue to create more jobs and more foraging opportunities for the people that are doing those kinds of things on a seasonal basis. Now that we have a commercial kitchen there, we're able to utilize our own resources, our own infrastructure, so to speak.”

David praised Harmony Food Co-op for helping with the project. “You know, these partnerships that we've developed, not just in Red Lake but in in the Bemidji community as well, and the Beltrami County area, we've all benefited from one another's business activities, our presences.”

A goal of this project is to generate income and jobs for Red Lake tribal members. “That's really our focus, to utilize our own resources, our land and our lakes and manage them through our conservation efforts…so we can live sustainably and yet still produce jobs and income for our tribal members.

When asked, David had to admit that his favorite flavor was chokecherry. “I’m partial to the chokecherry both in jelly and syrup. It is our number one seller but that is for a good reason, because the flavor is just incredible.”

There is more information in the audio interview below. Customers are able to purchase products from Red Lake Nation Foods online at their website. The products are also available at the Red Lake IGA (David adds, “We call that the Red Lake Trading Post in Red Lake”), and Harmony Food Co-op in Bemidji.