Reindeer farms possibly coming to the Upper Peninsula

HANCOCK — A new entree could be on the menu for Upper Peninsula restaurants.

An effort is underway from the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock to begin the farming of reindeer in the UP.

Over the weekend, a presentation was given at the annual Heikenpaiva celebration regarding the history of reindeer farming, from a Finnish herder and governing agencies are willing to consider the idea.

This year’s Heikenpaiva Celebration has come to completion bringing many to downtown Hancock for it’s annual parade and outdoor winter a activities.

In addition to fun and games, the month long festival featured many educational opportunities for folks to learn some of the ways from the old country, including wood carving and bread making.

“Povitizza is a yeast bread,” said Jim Kurtti, the director of the Finnish American Heritage Center. “It has a failing of nuts and honey. It’s very rich and it’s really good.

Another feature this year was the arrival of the much anticipated reindeer, and that’s something that UP residents could see more of in the future.

“We thought new expressions of the Finnish identity, especially in the case of Copper Country Finns, that trying to introduce reindeer would be something to discuss,” said Kurtti.

This would not be the first time that the animal has been introduced to the UP’s list of wildlife species.

“Much too our surprise we have discovered in the archives that it was attempted almost a hundred years ago in the 1920’s,” said Kurtti. “It apparently was a failed attempt. I think what made it fail was they pretty much just brought the reindeer here and let them go wild and one by one, they surprisingly disappeared. I think there were predators, mostly on two legs, that took care of those reindeer.”

An initial discussion took place this afternoon with input from the Michigan DNR, and the Department of Agriculture, who will review the information and logistics of reindeer cattle farms.

“In Finland, reindeer are not wild animals, they’re owned just like cattle,” said Kurtti. “So you have reindeer herders that take care of the deer and in a sense of watching for their well being, their health, and proper diet, etc. When you have a heard of reindeer it becomes a food product. The meet is used in a variety of ways, and in the olden days nothing was wasted, not the horns, not the skin, not the organs.”

Even the blood from the animal is harvested. It’s often cooked into a pancake and served for breakfast.

“Blood pancakes is actually one of the most popular treats in school,” added Kurtti. “They have blood pancakes once a week and the kids go ‘yeah!’ when that comes.”

More discussions and public input are expected to contribute to the decision making process.